The Valley may be a half a world away from the site of the biblical journey on which Christmas is centered but the folks at Grace Community Christian Church in Ceres are planning to give the public their best shot at recreating the "Journey to Bethlehem."
The 18th annual traditional Christmas venue opens at the church, 3754 E. Service Road, on Dec. 4 and repeats nightly on Dec. 5, 6 and 11, 12 and 13. Gates open at 5 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, with tours starting at 7 p.m. The gate closes at 9 p.m. Saturday tours start at 6 p.m. and close at 9 p.m. There is no admission charge but donations are accepted. This is a family event and visitors are encouraged to bring their children.
The event takes groups of 30 on a recreated historic pilgrimage of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem to pay taxes since everyone had to return to one's hometown for the census. The couple lived in Nazareth before the birth of the Christ child and had to travel some 80 miles. The couple would have had to endure hard conditions in their estimated 10 miles of travel per day on their way to the birth. Along the way travelers would often encounter thieves, suspicious characters, swindlers and others.
The journey will start at a look at a map and speaking with the mapmaker who will direct the journey. Along the way visitors will meet with other families who are journeying to their birthplace. Shepherds share a magnificent story about a baby that has been born in Bethlehem, and meet up with the three wise men who also are seeking this child. The journey will include encounters with Roman soldiers, both on horseback and in patrol teams, who order the "Jews" to comply with Roman law.
The mysterious appearance of an angel who announces the birth of Christ, and a visit to the Bethlehem marketplace will quicken the spirit and fill the senses. The culmination of the trip finds visitors in the inn where there is no room for the family to sleep, and finally the stable where the Christ child, Mary and Joseph, are resting in solitude.
Organizers of what has become known as "Journey" say some people make an event out of the wait to get in, including tailgate parties in the parking lot with pop-up tents and barbecue pits.
Since weather is the unknown factor, the church has a policy of offering to people in lines or tents the option of going through with the tour if light rains sprinkle on Ceres. But normally if it looks like rain or high winds for the evening the event is cancelled.
Visitors are advised that the one-mile of uneven walking surface of the field make wheelchair navigation difficult. The tour lasts about 45 minutes. Warm clothing is recommended.
Because pulling off Journey takes about 200 volunteers and Grace has about 120 members, a host of volunteers come from other Ceres area churches.
The grounds can accommodate 13 tour leaders with groups of no more than 30 persons. More guides mean the church can conduct more tours and cycle more people through and reduce waiting times.
Journey was started in 1996 by Pastor Wayne and Sue Unger.
For more information on Journey, visitgraceceres.org
or call 531-1902.