It's time to go back to Bethlehem.
"One Night in Bethlehem," a Christmas gift presented each year to McDuffie and surrounding counties by First Baptist Church of Thomson. This year's Drive-Through Living Nativity is scheduled for Wednesday through Friday, Dec. 14, 15, and 16. The Nativity will be open each evening from 7-9 p.m. The activity is free.
More than 60 actors will take part in various scenes depicting the Christmas story. Those who have visited the Nativity in the past will find some changes this year. The narrated story now begins in Caesar's Rome, where the decree for a census is made. A new scene has also been added.
"On the corner where the census used to be, we've put in a synagogue school scene," said Nativity director Laverne Melton, Minister of Music at First Baptist. "The scene will show a rabbi with his students, poring over the ancient texts that prophesied the birth of the Messiah. It's our way of emphasizing the irony that even as they studied the prophecy, it was about to be fulfilled. And they weren't even aware of that."
Visitors to the Nativity often comment on the lifelike quality of the presentation.
"One of the things that we've always asked our actors to do is to remain active throughout the performance," said Ms. Melton. "In the village scene, we even give coins to everyone so that they can "buy" things from the vendors. I'm amazed every year by how interesting our actors make this."
Ms. Melton encourages visitors to be aware of the character traits that the actors assume.
"We have church members with real talent out there," she said. "Watch for the ways they interact with one another. They don't just walk through or sit in the scenes. They become who they are supposed to be."
Another element that adds to the sense of real life is the use of live animals. The animals - three llamas, three donkeys, seven sheep, and a goat - are a part of the menagerie at Second Time Around Mini Farm, Inc., which is located in Washington.
According to Ms. Melton, "The animals are such an important part of the Nativity. They give it a wonderful feeling of reality. Every year visitors comment on the animals that Vicky Moses and her team bring."
The only access to the Nativity is from Warrenton Highway onto National Avenue. A right turn at the intersection of National Avenue and Johnson Avenue moves visitors into the Nativity area. The traffic pattern will be clearly marked by signs along the route.
"This is the sixth year of our presentation," said Melton. And each year we've noticed more and more visitors coming in from the counties around us. We're so glad to have the word spreading this way. We want as many people as possible to experience the joy of Christ's birth with us," she said.