The Trek to Bethlehem in Bala was only supposed to happen once. It was the closing event in 1993 for the town’s 125th anniversary. The Trek to Bethlehem was the end-of-the-year climax.
The trek proved to be so popular that it had to be repeated the following December – and again the year after that. It soon turned into an annual event, bringing many families back year after year to experience what the first Christmas must have been like.
The 20th trek will be happening on Saturday evening, Dec.1, with tours starting after 6 p.m. from the Bala Community Centre. Once again a circle of Bala streets will be transformed into a biblical village where small groups are led by guides in costume for tours lasting roughly 20 minutes.
Along the way, the groups meet cranky Roman soldiers, shepherds with real sheep, traveling Wise Men, lepers, sinister Roman tax collectors, angels singing Christmascarols and a prophet tending his own lonely fire. The tour ends with a manger scene that often brings visitors to tears.
Visitors, who are advised to dress warmly, often start lining up outside the community centre before 5:30 p.m. Once inside, each person is given a decree stating that they are summoned to the city of their fathers to be counted and to pay taxes. After singing Christmas carols, they depart in small family groups led by a costumed guide. The route is lit by torches and small outdoor fires.