LIVERMORE -- Sorry, Ralphie, a BB gun is not a part of this "Christmas Story," and a cast of East Bay residents is out to remind people the true meaning of Dec. 25, which has nothing to do with the popular 1980s film.

For the past two months, parishioners from St. Michael's Catholic Church and volunteers have been feverishly working to bring Bethlehem and the Nativity story to downtown Livermore.

Starting on Dec. 13, people of all denominations will be transported back in time to a 35,000 square-foot Bethlehem complete with a period-era market, Roman guards, livestock, Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.

"Society is losing touch with what Christmas is about," said Doug Fernandez, a parishioner at St. Michael's who is leading The Living Bethlehem production after witnessing a similar re-creation by a church in Santa Clara four years ago. "We are losing it through commercialization and companies selling goods. This is the Christmas story and what Christmas is about."

More than 100 actors dressed in period-era clothing will act out different scenes from the town of Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born. Performances are free and will run every 30 minutes, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 13 through Dec. 17 at a vacant field near Monsignor Adams field and the Bankhead Theater.


Advertisement

Fernandez and other members of St. Michael's parish are building everything from the set, including towers that stand 28 feet tall and surround Bethlehem, and are auditioning people for the parts of Mary and Joseph and the wise men.

Barbara Pinto-Choate, St. Michael's director of music ministry, is also auditioning singers and has invited other Bay Area choirs to sing and take part in the production.

"People will walk through and feel as if they have been transported," said Pinto-Choate. "They will be listening to the guards having a conversation by the fire and in another area see Mary and Joseph walking with a donkey through a census. It is really a beautiful thing."

Fernandez, an architect and contractor by trade, was inspired to recreate Bethlehem after witnessing a similar production by the Santa Clara First Baptist, which is hosting its 14th annual Bethlehem, "Experience the Birth," where the church's parking lot is transformed into a 40,000-square-foot Bethlehem.

"I walked into the church after seeing it one day and said 'I am sorry, you don't know me but the reason I am here is because I am amazed at what you did with Bethlehem,' " Fernandez said.

"I told them I wanted to spread the word as much as you do."

The conversation Fernandez had with the Santa Clara First Baptist congregation set him off on a near four-year journey. He created a three-dimensional model of the Bethlehem he wanted to bring to Livermore and presented it three years ago to the mayor, nonprofits and Nancy Bankhead, who agreed to let Fernandez use the land near the Bankhead Theater for the re-creation, Fernandez said.

A member of the Knights of Columbus, he convinced fellow members to help with the construction and started a nonprofit to make sure the production is produced annually. Fernandez is also raising money and expects the re-creation to cost $50,000 to $55,000 to produce.

He also intends to have counselors on hand to talk to people who may be going through a difficult time during the holiday season.

"I think what is important is that we have to get back to values," Fernandez said. "We are losing touch of that and hopefully this will make nonbelievers into believers."

For more information email Fernandez at livingbethlehem@aol.com or visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzKPwOYQECw.

Living Bethlehem

When: Dec. 13-17. Performances are every 30 minutes from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
Where: Church and 3rd streets, Livermore
Cost: Free, but donations are taken
More information: Email livingbethlehem@aol.com or visit http://bit.ly/QXMs37