Four Little Towns of Bethlehem In Yakima, Hermiston, Spokane and Wenatchee

February 01, 2011 | Kathy Marson

What makes more than 12,700 people travel to Yakima, Wash.; Hermiston, Ore.; Spokane, Wash.; and Wenatchee, Wash., the first weekends of December? What causes nearly 700 people to dress in Bible costumes, become parking attendants, or hot chocolate servers? The migration to Spokane South Hill's version of ancient Bethlehem has occurred for four years. Three years ago, Hermiston began their little town, two years ago Yakima commenced their story of Jesus' birth and this year Wenatchee began. These productions don't just happen, they take a lot of work. Greg Griffitts, pastor from Hermiston says, "This is an all-out event. For two or three weeks this is all that is going on."

"The people in our church really enjoy working together for a common goal," says Debbie Gilbert from Yakima. "It is great to see so many little miracles happen. From costumes, buildings and weather — we were supposed to have a huge ice storm and it didn't happen. God makes it all come together. This event is bigger than we are ..."

For three or four days, there were many visitors to each Little Town of Bethlehem, with members of churches and communities playing the parts of the townspeople.

"I just got back from a trip to Israel and I went to Bethlehem," says a woman who attended the Yakima event. "This was better!"

As guests arrived at each location, they were greeted by parking attendants and ushered into the church to listen to music from community groups while waiting their turn to travel through the streets of Bethlehem. They were guided by a "cousin" through streets filled with the smell of camp fires, roasting chicken and torches. Amidst the cacophony of clucking chickens, the mournful wail of the shofar and the galloping of horses, street vendors hawked their wares and the innkeeper guarded his door. Visitors experienced the tax collector's demands, angels singing, shepherds running and baby Jesus in the stable. As he was leaving, tears rolling down his cheeks, one man said to the Hermiston parking attendant, "Thank you for the wonderful portrayal of Jesus' story."

Yakima had 3,700 people in attendence; Hermiston hosted 1,672 guests; Spokane had 3,847 attendees; and Wenatchee had 3,500. In all, there were 12,000-plus visitors and nearly 700 volunteers.