Yeshua, an oil and spice merchant portrayed by Hal Bullock, tells interested onlookers about how various spices were used at a previous First Christmas presented by First Baptist Church in Columbus. Photo by: Courtesy photo
December 2, 2017 10:16:56 PM
Work is well underway to transform a grassy lot on Military Road in Columbus into a bustling Bethlehem marketplace for First Christmas. Several hundred volunteers from First Baptist Church are involved in this annual presentation open from 6-8 p.m. Dec. 8-10 at Brickerton, near the junction of Military Road and Bluecutt Road.
Visitors will experience sights and sounds of long ago. Roman soldiers on horseback, tax collectors and merchants will await all who enter the village. Streets lined with tradespeople including a basket weaver, potter, carpenter, baker and blacksmith, will lead to the most important site of all -- the stable where Mary and Joseph sheltered.
"If you have never done an event like First Christmas, this is really something to experience," said Pam Bullock, who is coordinating the First Christmas cast. "You feel like you have been transported back into time, to what it must have felt somewhat like when Jesus was born."
Tina Gatewood is event chair. She works closely with Bullock and other volunteers, including longtime organizer Judy Livingston, who has earned the title "mayor of Bethlehem."
Gatewood said, "A lot of the people that work in the village have done it for such a long time -- they've really researched their parts; they try to be as authentic as they can be."
Hal Bullock, Pam's husband, is one of them. He portrays Yeshua, the oil and spice merchant. He has researched countries of origin of spices and oils known in first-century Israel. He studies what they were used for, and how they made their way to biblical Bethlehem from Arabia, East Africa or Persia.
"Many spices we know today were used commonly, but for very different purposes," he explained. "For instance, cinnamon, which was very expensive, but known, was used almost exclusively for incense and embalming -- not to flavor sweets."
Such merchants of the time were a combination grocer and pharmacist and could advise customers which herb, spice or oil to use for needs of the moment, Hal Bullock said. He would know, for example, that rosemary was used both to flavor fish and as insect repellent.
Dwaine Smith is better known in the village as Simon, the tanner. Smith has researched tanning in biblical times.
"It's not a pretty process," he said. The tannery would usually be located on the village outskirts, preferably close to the sea due to the need for water, especially salt water, to turn skins of animals into essentials such as sandals, belts and garments, to mention only a few.
One important aspect of First Christmas preparation for cast members is prayer.
"The first and most important way I prepare for my role is to pray that God uses me to show visitors what they need to see and hear," said Hal Bullock. Smith also adds prayers for good weather, knowing that will bring more people out to receive an opportunity to hear the gospel.
"This is why we're doing this," he said.
First Christmas has drawn approximately 2,500 to 3,000 visitors in each of the past several years, Gatewood said.
"It's very worshipful to come in and hear the sounds of the village," she continued. "Once people walk through and experience the true meaning of Christmas, I think it's very heartwarming for a lot of them."
Pam Bullock agreed. "If you've done it once, you will want to do it many times, and you'll want to bring your children, your grandchildren and your friends."
Live music will be provided during First Christmas by singers from Heritage Academy, East End Baptist Church and First Baptist Church on various nights. Admission is free.
Hot chocolate and cookies, provided by Beans & Cream and church volunteers, will also be served.
For more information, contact First Baptist Church, 662-328-3915.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.