It’s only a few days after Christmas and people are asking, “How were the holidays?” as if once the 25th passes there’s no more need for cheer bearing gatherings or reasons to feel merry and bright. I’m still resonating.
When I read Jamil Hamid’s essay about the real Bethlehem and what Christmas used to be like there when he was a child, I felt the same wistfulness about world peace that Hamid, a Muslim, expresses. He mentions the Church of the Nativity, thought to be where Jesus was born. It has a fascinating history and one that continues to transform with Bethlehem’s changing cultural make-up.
His essay also reminded me of my own Bethlehem feelings that I experienced one Christmas Eve in The Gambia. I also thought about the Ohio connection to The Church of the Nativity. (When you live in Ohio long enough, the connections to other places are amazing. I can come up with about anything, however, I can assure you this is an honest to goodness connection.)
This past October, I headed to the Bethlehem Cave and Nativity Museum outside Akron to interview the woman who gives tours and take photos for an article I was writing on nativities across Ohio. The cave and museum are housed in the Nativity of the Lord Jesus Parish, a Catholic Church that picked up on the nativity theme and ran with it. The cave, built in a room downstairs is patterned after the one in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Akron’s replica was designed by the church’s priest based on sketches he made when he used to take tours to the real Bethlehem Cave. He is an expert on the church’s history but does not take tour groups there anymore because ihe believes it has become too dangerous. His church, though, is devoted to the place. Throughout the rest of the church in Akron there are references to the church in Bethlehem.
Along with the cave, the church has a nativity set collection filled with nativities from all over the world. If you ever want a good tiding fix, head here. You can find out a lot about the church in Bethlehem that Hamid writes about. You can also see the star at the bottom of the alter.