Treat the members of your ward to a trip back in time! Visit “Bethlehem” on the evening Jesus Christ was born. A Night in Bethlehem is a fun activity idea that includes invitation wording, a skit, and food like the Savior may have eaten. It’s a big logistical undertaking, but the payoff is great!
The year I did Night in Bethlehem activity, FOUR other units in the Stake did the same activity! I got pictures from many of them and ideas from others and have shared them below.
Families are notified of the event by flyer three or four weeks in advance. The flyer will explain what will happen that night and give instructions on what to wear and bring.
Several days before the event a Decree (invitation) that appears to an official document rolled like a scroll from Caesar Augustus, will summon all families to Bethlehem to be taxed. Everyone is instructed to wear simple costumes of Christ’s time. Each family brings a quilt to sit on. Be sure and let older folk know there will be an Inn with chairs and tables for those who can’t sit on the floor. The families will meet in the chapel for an opening prayer. before hand.
You should also ask auxiliary heads and the Bishopric or Branch Presidency to announce the activity from the pulpit. This activity is a great missionary tool — so encourage everyone to invite their friends!
See the attachments section for flyers and ideas
Here is sample wording for the invitation:
By order of his Royal Majesty, the Emperor Caesar Augustus, it is decreed that all the world is to be counted and taxed.
Therefore, let each person and family come for “A NIGHT IN BETHLEHEM” to be taxed according to law.
Donkeys must be tied on the east side of the building and enter through the proper gate.
Everyone must be dressed in Biblical attire to enter the city.
Bring a blanket for your family to rest on from your long journey, you may find that the inn is full.
Each family will be assessed taxes. Watch for tax notices.
A light supper will be available in the open market.
All taxing will take place on the date, time and place shown in the lower corner. Those disobeying this law to appear, will be sentenced to a holiday season without the true spirit of Christmas.
So let it be written. So let it be done.
Assignments & Booths
You’ll be making lots of assignments and creating several “booths” for serving food. Here’s a list some you might use:
- PRIMARY PITA INN Pita bread, bagels with cream cheese or butter are sold in this booth. Also look in a Jewish cookbook for other ideas. Call it the “Primary Pita Inn” and assign it out to the Primary
- YOUNG WOMEN’S FRUIT MARKET Sell pieces of fruit like oranges, bananas, dates, grapes and pineapple, and ask the Young Women to help.
- PRIESTHOOD MEAT & DAIRY stuffed eggs, cheese cubes and green and black olives can be sold from this booth. The men will be happy to run this booth!
- BISHOP’S WINERY Grape juice mixed with 7-up would be a good seller here. Assign the Bishopric to serve here.
- THE WELL Set up a well (cardboard box with a large container for water and dipper) for drinking.
- RELIEF SOCIETY CHARITY BAKERY Trays of cookies and pastries, run by the women.
- BOYS AND THEIR TOYS DREIDEL SHOP A Dreidel is a small Jewish top. It’s a fun game for children. Put the driedel and game instructions in a small baggie, and ask the young men to collect coins.
As part of the Bethlehem experience, members will be asked to pay TAXES or buy their food. There are a couple ways to do this:
- A tax collector will visit each family to symbolically collect taxes before the program begins. The tax collector could collect cans of food from each family that could be given to a local charity in lieu of “Money”
- Make your own coins for the activity out of salt dough or something similar. Give a small pouch to each family or person, and ask them to pay taxes and buy the items at each booth
- Buy plastic coins from a party store. Place them in bags, and use them for paying for items.
You’ll want to make a CENSUS. This could be a large scroll attached to an easel for each family to sign. It might also be a card for a missionary, a booklet, or simple notepad. Put someone by the entrance to the building with the census to take names for Caesar. This might be a good place to station missionaries so they get to meet everyone — especially nonmembers — who attend.
Some units create a hands-on Gift of the Magi booth. Someone need to decorate and run this booth and prepare the gold, incense and myrrh. The gold is small rocks sprayed with gold paint. The frankincense is potpourri and he myrrh is slightly burned caramelized sugar broken into pieces. You can invite children to come and see the gifts and emphasize the story. (Alternatively, you can actually buy kits with real samples of all these items.)
For the PROGRAM the following assignments should be made:
- Person to conduct the meeting (usually the Activities Committee Chairperson)
- Opening and closing prayers
- Roman soldier to read decree
- Accompanist for prelude music
- Chorister during program
- Sound system
- lighting for manger scene, WISEMEN and shepherds
- Actors: Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, 3 WISEMEN, shepherds, angels
Don’t for get to ask for CLEAN UP help!
Now here’s your chance to go wild! Do everything you can to make your gym feel like it’s a market in Bethlehem. Spices simmering in an electric crock pot can give a good aroma and add to the atmosphere. Start them an hour or so before hand to get them smelling good.
I’ve also seen cinnamon-scented pinecones used for this purpose.
Decorate with baskets, crocks, dried weeds etc. You can place fake plants strategically to cover up exits. Disguise the bases of the trees with luxurious rugs and pillows to make it look like the inside of a rich merchant’s tent.
You can use battery-powered candles for mood lighting. White Christmas lights, especially icicle lights, can also be used for mood lighting.
One ward used tiny fabric sheep throughout to decorate.
You may wish to set luminaries at each entry and along the sidewalk at the church. 24 luminaries will provide you with a lot of light. Use white lunch sacks with about a cup of sand in the bottom. Place a short white candle in the sand and ignite. You[‘ll need someone outside to closely monitor the luminaries. After a majority of people have arrived, blow out the luminaries.
Some wards create “inns” and “city gates”. Check out the pictures below for ideas.
Night in Bethlehem decorations
Here are some pictures of different wards’ decorations. These were NOT all from the same activity, so don’t freak out! They’re just posted here en masse so you can .
You’ll start the evening in the chapel.
Here’s a well designed by one ward.
Cute stable backdrop and adorable costumes!
Above is one ward’s “city gate”. They built this structure as a pass-through from the chapel into the gym. Since this building was a stake center they had an overflow. After receiving instructions, the accordion walls were pushed back and members passed through the gate into the city.
This was an activity in a small ward building with no overflow, so they used popup tents to make the “city gate”. When members entered through the accordian doors, the 3 soldiers stood on either side of the walk way looking intimidating. Notice also the enormous parachute covering the entire top of the gym to complete the market feel.
Food Booth with tiny sheep decoration
Food Booth with well and throw pillow decorations
Here’s an “inn”, made from pop-up tents covered with a king sized sheet and decorated with Christmas lights. This is where the “honored” citizens of Bethlehem (those who could not sit on the floor) ate.
This was the location where one ward read the skit from.
One ward used paper bags to create a city scene in blank areas.
This is a piece of muslin fabric painted to look like a night seen in Bethlehem like the shepherds may have seen. Notice the pillows and rugs decorating the area.
A closeup of the painted backdrop.
Regardless of how many times you announce, someone is going to forget their blankets. Here’s a wagon with extra blankets for the forgetful.
The Day Of
On the day of the event, have all families directed to the chapel. Prelude music will be playing as everyone is seated. After the opening prayer and blessing on the food, inform each family that as they leave the chapel they will need to sign the census and then each person will receive a bag of money for the evening. Children should be counseled to spend wisely so that they have enough money to pay for everything. Let them know the tax collector will be coming around to collect their taxes before the program begins. have each family mingle through the town buying their dinner, toys etc with their money. They also should be told they are to join in with the singing during the program. Instruct them to leave reverently at the end of the program so the mood of the evening is not broken. After these instructions, dismiss them to sign the census, collect their money and go to the Cultural Hall.
Here’s what it looks like with families on the floor eating
Here’s what it looks like with families on the floor eating
Here’s how one ward decorated their booths — with fabric draped across the top of 2×2 wooden frames
When most of the families have finished eating the lights will be dimmed and Mary and Joseph will enter and weave though the throng looking for a place to stay. Have them wander around a little until you can see that they are noticed. When they have been seen, turn off all the lights except for the stars and the spotlight. This is the beginning of the program.
- CENTURION: (reads proclamation) “Here ye! Here Ye! Gather your families around and give heed to the words that are said.
NARRATOR: For the Kingdom of Heaven is soon at hand; yeas the Son of God cometh in His glory, in his might, majesty and dominion. Yea my beloved brethren, I say unto you, that the Spirit saith; Behold the glory of the king of the earth; and also the king of Heaven shall very soon shine forth among all the children of men. thus we should “make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: Make a loud noise, and rejoice and sing praise.”
SONG: Joy to the World (everyone)
NARRATOR: And it came to pass in those days, there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, everyone into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
SONG: O Little Town of Bethlehem–have Joseph and Mary make their way to the stage and the manger as the song ends.
NARRATOR: And so it was there that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought him forth her first born son and wrapped in him swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the Inn. And there in the same country, shepherds abiding in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by nights. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them and they were sore afraid.
LIGHT SHINES ON SHEPHERDS
NARRATOR: And the angel said unto them Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manager. And suddenly there was the angel with a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
And it came to pass as the angles were gone away from them into Heaven, the shepherds said one to another. Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which came to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
SHEPHERDS GO TO THE MANGER AND KNEEL BEFORE BABY JESUS.
SONG: Away in a Manager (everyone)
NARRATOR: And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the babe laying in a manger. And the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard, as it was told to them.
SHEPHERDS LEAVE–WISE MEN ENTER
NARRATOR: Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem
saying “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” For we have seen
his star in the East and are come to worship him.” And lo he star, which they saw in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. And when they saw the Star, they rejoiced with exceeding joy. And when they were come to his house they saw the young child with his mother Mary his mother and fell down and worshipped him: and when they opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
WISEMEN PRESENT GIFTS TO BABY JESUS
EVERYONE ON STAGE FREEZES AND STAYS THERE UNTIL THE SONG IS OVER
NARRATOR: Now 2000 years later we approach this most joyous and sacred
time of the year when we celebrate our Savior’s birth. It is the greatest season of the year when we have the desire to give to others. When Jesus came as a lowly babe, there was no room in the Inn. Today, every heart and every home should bid him welcome. Christ came to bring us peace and eternal life. Let us accept his gift with thankfulness, gratitude and remembrance. In remembrance of that most silent and holy night when God sent down his ultimate gist of love.
SONG: Silent Night (everyone)
CLOSING PRAYER: Pre-assigned
Narration: A Variation
My Northern Virginia ward had a number of US soldiers serving overseas at the time of our Christmas program. We thought it would be nice to give them an opportunity to be involved with the program, so I asked them to help — which they were thrilled to do. Not only was it nice to have them participate from afar, but it made it easy on the participants because no one had to worry about reading.
One of the videos was done over Skype (while the soldier reclined in his bunk!), and the other was made in the USO’s story-reading room. That soldier bought a book, which gave him access to the video recording equipment, a DVD, and a way to ship the video home easily (hence the stuffed animals in the background). Instead of reading the Dr. Seuss story, he just read the Christmas script.
I used iMovie to make this video, and we set up the projector attached to a laptop and projector screen in Bethlehem.
Wrapping Up / Final Notes
After the closing prayer everyone is reminded to leave quickly and quietly. the cleaning and picking up is not started until everyone has left.
This activity can be done by a committee with each member assigned over a different part of the night, or you can assign each organization to be over one complete booth. Couples without children might want to work in the shops so that younger parents could be with their children. Any way can be effective if it works well for your ward.
The cultural hall will be decorated as a street scene in Bethlehem, complete with booth where food, toys, drinks can be bought with the sack of coins given to each family as the enter. Many strands of white Christmas light are strung above the hall giving the beautiful effect as stars when the lights are dimmed for the play. Pin lights to the stage curtains behind the manger to give an extra effect.
Jewish Crafts / Draydels
Menorah.com was the cheapest place I found to buy dreidels.
The Seder Plate
If you want to go for “authentic” food, go with a seder plate, the traditional passover meal:
How to make charoset – easy recipe for the food that represents the mortar Jews spread during the Egyptian captivity
A Night in Bethlehem Links
http://www.reverso.net/text_translation.asp?lang=EN – Translate words from English (or other languages) into Hebrew! Great for making signs for your booths.
http://www.historian.net/coins.htm – Learn about the coins from Jesus’ day. Useful if you are planning to make your own coins out of clay or paper.
http://www.bible-history.com/links.php?cat=13&sub=206&cat_name=Bible+His… – Another informative article on coins. Contrary to popular belief, metal coins were used in Jesus’ day, not clay coins.
http://www.mardigrasoutlet.com/catalog/724.html – This was the cheapest place I could find for plastic coins. We bought enough coins to have 5 per person.
My Original Source for this activity is http://www.homemaking-cottage.com/index.php/Enrichment-LDS/Special-Progr…
Notes from Andrew R.
Andrew was a deacon who attended this activity when it was done in a Puerto Rico ward. Here’s his perspective:
In the beginning, when you went in the hallway, and were given a sack of gold coins to pay taxes. there were two Romans with fake spears demanding a tax so you could enter Bethlehem. To make the fake spears, we got a stick or a pole like you break the top off a rake, and put aluminum foil on the top. Inside Bethlehem there were stands where people would be selling cheese and bread and fruit and stuff like that. Then after that there would be a play by a bunch of people a Christmas play — then you;d go on buying stuff. It was fun. It was reallym really fun!
It was a nativity play. The Primary were the angels; the deacons were the wise men because there was only like 3 deacons, and other ward members were Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus. We had like a wood stable with only a back wall. I think it was a straw stable. It was a light weight wood frame with only a back wall. I was a deacon.
The food was kind of like a re-enactment like you were really in Bethlehem. Like there was cheese, there was fruit; there was vegetables. I’m not sure if there was meat or not. And yeah, it was really really fun. There was bread and crackers. We had chairs on the side if you wanted to get a chair, but most everyone walked around and ate it with a plate in the gym.
Missionaries got to be the Roman tax collectors. It was fun because there was a big stack of coins pouches right behind the Roman guards and me and the other boys would steal the coins when we ran out. One boy dropped his all over the floor, and the Romans caught him.
Please share your experiences with the Night in Bethlehem activity below!