'On a Night in Bethlehem' returns to Centralia's town square Saturday night

Friday, December 14, 2012 | 2:39 p.m. CST; updated 6:06 p.m. CST, Saturday, December 15, 2012

COLUMBIA — The square in Centralia will be filled Saturday night with animals, shepherds, wise men and angels, all paying homage to the holy family.

For the second year, eight Centralia churches will stage a recreation of the Christmas story in tableaux around the square.

It begins with Gabriel's appearance to Mary, then moves to Joseph's reaction about the news of an impending birth and their thwarted attempt to find a room at the inn. It ends with the wise men making their way through the animals to the Nativity.

More than 100 actors and volunteers from the community help put on the production, organizer Lori Benson said.

They dress as participants in the pageant and work with the animals — a donkey, a pony, goats, sheep and cows, along with a new addition: a camel.

Tours begin at First Baptist Church at 5 p.m. and continue until 9 p.m. Donations are accepted, but will not be asked of anyone, she said.

Last year, Benson said she expected between 200 and 300 people, but there was a turnout of more than 1,000.

"It was wonderful," she said.

This year, the team has tweaked the production. It will showcase a new play by Benson and collaborator Danelle Mathews, as well as new songs and a new layout.

The diabolical King Herod will be back this year, too. Benson said he was a hit last Christmas.

"He actually scared our two little young girls who are 5 because he does the scene so well," Benson said with a laugh. 

Benson, a member of First Christian Church, said the church fellowship hall and gymnasium will be open so guests can stay warm. According to the National Weather Service, temperatures are expected to range between 39 and 59 degrees Saturday with little chance of rain.

Cookies and cocoa will be available. Each church helps donate the cookies for the event.

"This year we'll have around 4,800 cookies because we ran out of cookies last year," Benson said. "We even bought one of the grocery stores out of cookies."

The "On a Night in Bethlehem" Facebook page provides further information and interviews with the actors.

Participating churches are Bethlehem Baptist, Cornerstone Baptist Church, First Baptist, Friendship Christian, Tulip Christian, Centralia United Methodist, Holy Spirit Catholic and Good Shepherd Lutheran.

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