GREENFIELD — Many hands make light work, but sometimes they also require more costumes.

A row of folded clothing ensembles led to Shauna Nivens’ seat as she took stock of the wardrobe on a recent afternoon at her home.

In 2015, about 50 costumed portrayers brought “Night in Bethlehem” to life at Brandywine Community Church, 1551 E. New Road. This year, 25 to 30 additional costumes point to a bigger cast offering a glimpse into life around the time of Jesus’ birth. That’s just one way organizers are trying to make the second event, which opens Dec. 18, bigger and better.

Those who came over two evenings in 2015 toured a first-century Bethlehem marketplace in the church’s gymnasium, with hands-on stops where visitors could interact with shopkeepers, such as helping a weaver thread a row of yarn. Marketplace milling was followed by stopping in another room to see Herod’s palace and venturing outdoors to a live manger scene.

Jeff Weiland, an art teacher at Greenfield-Central High School, was a potter in last year’s village and plans to set up that station again this year.

“The goal for all of us is to give all visitors the opportunity to get a small taste of Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth in addition to demonstrating the circumstances of this historical event,” he wrote in an email to the Daily Reporter. “It is an experience that cannot be duplicated by reading a book or watching a movie.”

Organizers of this year’s event hope to enhance that live experience with more stations to visit, more scenery details, and an expanded schedule for seeing it all.

“Seeing all the different talents come together is just incredible,” Pam Campbell said. “It’s fun to see how God pulls it all together …

“It’s like a 1,000-piece puzzle that all of a sudden comes together.”

Campbell spent an evening last week on one of those pieces, as she helped dye sheets and spread them out on paper lining the church gym’s floor. Then volunteers with sponges and various shades of paint created a rock pattern that will form a stone wall backdrop at the event.

Tammy Coughenour was also among the painters. She said helping out with a sacred program at the church is the start of her Christmas season — “sort of a sentimental thing, I guess.”

Coughenour and her husband have three daughters; she said seeing what they learned from last year’s event has been meaningful. For 12-year-old Abigail, the experience made her think not only about the events of Christmas but also how many daily tasks were more difficult in times past, and it made her thankful, Coughenour said.

Setting this scene of daily life in Bethlehem began a few years ago, when Nivens took her and husband J.K.’s four children to a similar program at a church in Noblesville.

“I just thought it was such a neat educational experience for them,” Nivens said.

She took pictures of that event and last year showed them to church leaders at Brandywine. They were supportive of the idea, and organizers planned for 700 visitors over the two nights the inaugural Night in Bethlehem was open.

Seven hundred came on the first night alone, even though it was raining, Nivens said.

With about 1,400 total attending last year, organizers are expanding the hours and days Night in Bethlehem is open.

Groups begin the tours every 10 minutes; making it through all the scenes takes about an hour, Nivens said. The last tour begins at 8 p.m. each day.

Not only hours have been expanded. Organizers also are adding more stations in the marketplace: jewelry making, weapon making, yarn spinning, leather working and fabric dying. And they’re sharpening the loose script that portrayers follow at each station, one focused on a scenario that guides their banter with visitors, as opposed to specific lines.

“There’s a little more of a story line this year,” Nivens said.

She’s hoping those scenes together form a united larger picture of Christmas, helping those who believe “come away with an understanding of the culture and times and what Jesus was up against in relaying his message.”

For those who don’t necessarily profess to be Christians, she said, “I hope they come away with an understanding of who Jesus is to us.”

If you go

“Night in Bethlehem” will present scenes of first-century Bethlehem at Brandywine Community Church, 1551 E. New Road, Greenfield. Guided tours begin every 10 minutes, with the last tour beginning at 8 p.m.

The marketplace and Herod’s palace are indoors, while the manger scene, blacksmith shop and live animals — cows, chickens, goats, a horse and a dog — are outside.

Hours are

-4 to 8 p.m. Dec. 18

-6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 19

-6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 20

For more information, call 317-462-4777 or see “Night in Bethlehem” on Facebook.

Author photo
Anne Smith is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at