The boys occasionally surprise me by asking if we’re going to do something again around a holiday, because “That’s what we do,” even though sometimes we’ve only done it once or twice. I think it just takes a couple of repetitions to create a tradition.

We don’t have a ton of traditions for Christmas, but one of my very favorites is this weekend. It’s the Bethlehem Marketplace, about half an hour away from us.


We’ve gone with my mother multiple times. I’m not entirely sure how many, to be honest. I know we went with Ward, and I feel like we had gone to it before Ward was born.

It takes place in a huge church. You wait in the sanctuary for at least half an hour, and it might be pushing an hour. But that’s perfectly okay because there are padded pews there are live Christmas music acts going on the whole time. Solos, children’s choirs, adult choirs, acoustic guitar songs, sing-a-long carols with the congregation. Which I adore because Christmas carols rock and we rarely go to church, so this is one of the Big Christmas Carol Hurrahs for us.

Then, when it’s your turn, you get called back with thirty or so other people and wend your way through the church to the Marketplace outside. It’s under an enormous tent. Right as you walk in, a shepherd pulls you over and tells how he heard the Wonderful Tidings of Great Joy, and this is when I am glad that this area is only lit by white Christmas tree lights because I always cry a little bit.

Great Tidings! Great Tidings! Jesus has been born!

(and those of you who know me well are wondering what my story is at this point, because I am not a regular churchgoer and I firmly believe that Jesus is not the only path to God, and that we all end up with God eventually, anyway. I am not, strictly speaking, a true Christian, I suppose. But Christmas will always be magical and divine to me.)

You walk through the Marketplace and see Roman guards who are stern and scary, pet the camels and llamas and sheep and donkeys, listen to the guy in prison talk about how he was persecuted, eat samples of cheese and olives and bread, and listen to villages whisper as they walk by:

Our savior has been born. You’ll see him lying in a manger, just ahead.

And you walk on through, past the brass pot seller and the girl hawking a live chicken, past the weavers and the dye sellers, past all the animals, and then, there he is.

A little baby (it’s a huge church, so I guess they rotate the new parents and babies in shifts; the baby is always content and tiny) in the manger, with Mary and Joseph beside him.


And sweet tears.


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sweetsalty kate
    Dec 12, 2009 @ 22:18:21

    It’s so unfair of the world to put us too far apart to share a bottle of wine.

    This sounds so lovely. xo

  2. Jennifer Jones
    Dec 13, 2009 @ 20:05:17

    It’s one of our favorite traditions as well, although this is the first time in 3 years we have been able to go. It is always so special, and as you said…magical.

  3. thisbumpyjourney
    Dec 13, 2009 @ 23:22:20

    We went today and it was just great, as usual. Somehow it is the perfect combination of emotion and spirituality and memory, it just knocks me down. I had to turn away and get it together by the camels, and then sort of seeped from my eyes for the rest of the walk through. I can’t even put it into words how or why it’s so moving, but it is. They do a wonderful, wonderful job with it.

  4. Debra
    Dec 14, 2009 @ 14:02:40

    A church in Knoxville does this, too, and it is a moving experience, especially when the holy family is in the manger outdoors. (For the past few years, they’ve been indoors because of the cold.) As we wait in line to attend a service with a rabbi, we complete census forms & have no entertainment!

    (And I feel the same way you do about God. Thanks for sharing!)

  5. Auntie Sue
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 14:43:52

    Is it taking place both Saturday and Sunday? Our tradition for several years was going to Lessons and Carols in Sewanee. That’s also an incredibly beautiful way to think about the meaning of Christmas.

  6. thisbumpyjourney
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 14:51:55

    Yes, it was this past Saturday and Sunday, just the one weekend. The Sewanee service sounds nice, too. That is such a beautiful cathedral. Maybe we’ll make it to church this Sunday.

  7. Jane
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 20:24:26

    It does sound so beautiful.

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