Dec. 2—NORTH AUGUSTA — Return to Bethlehem, one of Aiken County's most prominent Christmas traditions, is bringing traffic to Georgia Avenue this week, having bounced back from its cancellation in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns.
Admission to the large-scale nativity reenactment at Grace United Methodist Church is free, and presentations are from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., representing an event that began in 1998 as a gift to the community. It has been traditionally held in even-numbered years.
This year's presentations began Wednesday and are to run through Saturday, with such church members as Marianne Harlan, Debbie Yano, Margaret McKibben and Buff Waters helping put the pieces into place. The event helps share some of the sights, sounds, smells and sensations as presented in the Bible's accounts of Jesus' birthplace.
Among the most prominent pieces are some on four legs, including camels, sheep and other creatures appropriate to the time and place being presented, with substantial help from Eudora Farms, near Salley.
The event, over the decades, has drawn more than 53,000 visitors — most on foot and some by car — and goes back to kindergarten years for at least one participant: Bella Waters, who is 19 and is appearing this week as a villager, Mary, and an angel, in that order.
Bob Bigger, also appearing as an angel, said he appreciates the "wow" factor, as expressed by children who may not yet have a firm grip on the overall meaning of the event but are nonetheless impressed by "the sights and the costumes and the lights." The presentation, he added, is "enjoyable for all ages."
Congregation members and other boosters contribute talent by way of helping build the sets, provide electricity, make costumes and direct (pedestrian) traffic.
The church's website notes, "Our handicapped guests are invited to drive through during the first 30 minutes of the production. Your car should be in line in front of the Wesley Center no later than 6:15 p.m. Our walking guests will line up at the Georgia Avenue entrance to the sanctuary. Please join the end of the line by 8 p.m."