Popular event returns to Parksville

Bethlehem Walk attracted more than 10,000 visitors in 2011

The Bethlehem Walk returns this season after a one-year hiatus, a “gift to the community” from the Parksville Fellowship Baptist Church.

This will be the 20th year of the event. In 2011, more than 10,000 people wandered through the period-accurate displays that depict life as it was in the town of Christ’s birth about 2,000 years ago.

“It’s exciting for us at the church,” said Bethlehem Walk coordinator Gail Barbero, who estimates the event will employ the efforts of about 350 volunteers, including actors and singers. “It is our gift to the community.”

Each night between 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Dec. 14-17, residents can enter the grounds of the church (550 Pym Street) and be greeted by actors playing roles like shepherds and shopkeepers, using elaborate sets and “introducing the people to the story of Christ,” said Barbero. There is also a special showing for young children and seniors on Dec. 16 from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.

There is no admission fee to walk the grounds and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of Bethlehem as it would have been 2,000 years ago, through more than 40 booths set up with blacksmiths, bakers, tanners and other shopkeepers. There will be a choir, cookies, hot drinks and much more.

“What we’re trying to do is take people back in time to Bethlehem,” said Barbero. “There is nothing to purchase and no admission fee.” A huge sleigh will be set up to take donations — both non-perishable food items and money — for the local Salvation Army. In 2011, visitors donated more than $12,000 and what was described as “many van loads” of food.

Last year, the church found it difficult to get all the volunteers it needed for the event, which had become a can’t-miss for locals during the holiday season.

“It’s not a bad thing to take a break sometimes,” said Barbero.

“But we’re glad to be up and running again this year.”