Story of Two Bethlehems: Nativity presentations in Redwood City, Santa Clara coming soon
By Joyce Kiefer

SbayDec11-2.jpg"It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…" the lilting song is already bouncing over sound systems in stores. "…everywhere you go." But wait, is Christmas the right word? Store displays, fake snow, and Santa and his sack of gifts look more like the commercially correct term, the holidays. It’s too easy to dismiss the root of Christmas, which is the birth of Christ.

To take us back to the basics of the season, two Bay Area churches, Santa Clara Baptist and Redwood City's Tapestry Church, have each re-created a living Bethlehem as it was at the time of Christ’s birth, complete with Roman soldiers, craftsmen, animals, angels and of course, the Nativity. This is no pageant on a stage. It puts you right in the middle of the action.

The first Bethlehem presentation opens at the Santa Clara First Baptist Church on Thursday, December 8, and continues each night from 6:30 to 9 p.m. through Monday, December 12. The address is 3111 Benton Street, Santa Clara, between Kiely Blvd. and Lawrence Expressway.

Less than two weeks later, the Redwood City production debuts Wednesday Dec. 21 through Friday, Dec. 23, 6:00 – 9:30 p.m. The sponsor, Tapestry Church, has presented Bethlehem AD for 19 years. The address is 1305 Middlefield Rd. in downtown Redwood City.

Kids might enjoy "Bethlehem" as much as "The Nutcracker." Like the Christmas star, spotlights pointed toward the night sky lead the way to the Bethlehem in Santa Clara and in Redwood City. Each sponsoring church has constructed the village on a parking lot and cast it with actors wearing the period dress of Israel at the time of Christ.

Both churches have the same basic setup. Once you’ve parked your latter-day substitute for a donkey or camel, you enter the gates of Bethlehem and participate in the census decreed by Emperor Caesar Augustus to register everyone in the Roman Empire in order to tax them. Each man had to register his family at his ancestral town. This is why Joseph and Mary came to Bethlehem when Jesus was about to be born. "And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David." Luke 2:4.

After this bit of business, make your way through the streets, past Roman soldiers, craftsmen, goats and sheep, and on to the spot where the angels herald the birth of Christ in a manger because the inns in town were fully booked. The three wise men from the East may join you.

Afterwards, you can warm up with hot drinks and snacks at the sponsoring church. Everything is free. Donations are accepted.

And if joining the production looks like fun for your family and a good way to focus the holidays, both churches are taking volunteers.

SbayDec11-3.jpgAt the Santa Clara First Baptist Church production in early Dec., over 100 tons of sand covers the church parking lot and over 100 actors from First Baptist and the community take part.

As you wait in line to enter the town, look and listen for the three kings coming to look for Jesus. They’re not alone. An entourage of dancers goes with them. Inside the village, Roman soldiers, some on horseback, parade in to announce the taking of the census ordered by the emperor. Like Joseph, you register your name. Although his priority was finding a place to stay, you can linger through the interactive stalls and learn about weaving and basket making. Watch pita bread being baked and taste a sample, washing it down with wine (non-alcoholic) straight from the press. Wonder what the kings’ gifts to Jesus of frankincense and myrrh smell like? Samples of these dried tree saps from Saudi Arabia should be on hand.

SbayDec11-1.jpgMeanwhile, Joseph and Mary arrive on a donkey, looking for a place to stay. When they find the manger and Jesus is born, a flying angel announces the birth to the shepherds, who then run through the city to proclaim the good news.

Five 30-minute performances are presented each night. If you come in at the end of one, you can stay on for another. If you’re lucky, you can sit down on a bale of hay.

Last year 17,000 people visited Bethlehem Santa Clara. Therefore, a few survival tips are in order, beginning with a look at the website and its map. See /

Parking – Fellowship Hall parking lot next to Santa Clara First Baptist Church on Benton Street, Santa Clara High School campus across the street from the church, and the parking lot of the Neighborhood Church, 1290 Pomeroy, where van shuttles can take you to Bethlehem.
Best time to go: Church staff member Dave Wilson suggests arriving at 6 p.m. on one of the middle dates. Relax afterwards: Hot chocolate, coffee and snacks are offered at Santa Clara First Baptist Church.
Participate: Want to be a Roman guard, sing, work in the ancient marketplace or help with logistics? Contact Jerry Cintas, Bethlehem producer. E-mail

SbayTapDec11-1.jpg"We chose to stage Bethlehem AD close to Christmas so the children will capture the true spirit of Christmas and carry it through to the Big Day," says Creative Director Paula Dresden of Tapestry Church. Dates again are Wednesday Dec. 21 through Friday, Dec. 23, 6:00 – 9:30 p.m. Tapestry Church has presented Bethlehem AD for 19 years.

Paula explains what makes Bethlehem AD distinctive. "We try to convey the sense that the people of Israel were searching for freedom from the Roman presence. Each visitor is given a coin to pay the Roman tax. Soldiers march by. The scribes at the synagogue argue about what the messiah will do when He comes. " Walk past Bethlehem’s craftsmen and vendors in period dress and pat some of the 150 live animals along the way and watch for the three Kings searching for the newborn king. Meanwhile, angels dance continuously at the manger scene.

SbayTapDec11-2.jpgThe entire presentation is ongoing. A walk through would take about 20 minutes.

Even waiting in line is part of the experience. Watch for chariots , spot angels on the roof, and listen to an audio tape in English or Spanish, explaining the historical context of the first Christmas. Old and new mix on the street: Roman centurions help Redwood City police direct traffic.

This year I hope to visit Bethlehem AD with my eight-year old granddaughter who lives in nearby San Mateo. I’ll tell her that some things never change.

Last year 30,000 people visited Bethlehem AD– about the population of the real city today. Therefore, your visit calls for strategic planning. Begin by checking the website and its map

Parking – The best place to park is behind the public library on 1044 Middlefield between Main and Jefferson, about three blocks away. Parking is available at the church for the elderly and disabled. Golf carts will pick them up and drive them through Bethlehem AD.
Best time to go: Paula suggests coming early the first night. Relax afterwards: Cider, coffee and donuts are offered free at Tapestry Church. If you don’t want to brave the crowd or the outdoor chill, you can watch a live video feed of the manger and village.
Participate: Kids can join with the Children’s Tribes group to participate in the presentation. Contact Paula by December 17. E-mail Paula  


Bone up on Christmas by reading the story of the birth of Christ in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2. See  

Santa Clara First Baptist Church
3111 Benton Street, Santa Clara, between Kiely Blvd. and Lawrence Expressway
Thursday, Dec. 8 - Mon. Dec. 12
6:30 to 9 p.m. daily

Tapestry Church
1305 Middlefield Rd.
Redwood City
Wed. Dec. 21 - Fri. Dec. 23
6:00 – 9:30 p.m. daily


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