During the month of December, many Christian families retell the biblical Christmas story as part of their holiday celebrations. Journey to Bethlehem is an adaptation of the traditional tale, focusing on Mary’s thoughts and actions as she prepares for the birth of Jesus. It offers a fun way to introduce children to some of the religious elements of what is also a popular cultural event.
Use these activities with children ages 5-12 to explore some of Christmas’s religious meaning for Christians.
Story differences. The movie adapts and embellishes the biblical Christian narrative. Read a traditional version of the Christmas story aloud and compare the two. Ask: What differences do you notice between the movie and the traditional story? If you were making a movie about the story, which details would you emphasize? Which would you leave out? Why?
Hard to believe. When Mary first tells others what Gabriel said to her, they struggle to believe her story. Invite children to pretend that they are one of Mary’s friends. Encourage them to act out how they would respond to Mary’s news. Ask: What look would you have on your face? What would you say? What would you do to help you better understand what has happened to Mary?
Names for Jesus. Throughout the movie, people use different names for the new baby: savior, son of God, Emmanuel, king, Jesus. Talk with children about what each of these names might mean. Look up any terms that you are unsure of to learn more about them. Then listen to For Unto Us a Child is Born from Handel’s Messiah. Ask: What are some other names that Christians use for Jesus? What name would you give the baby? Why?
Power plays. Herod is the king of Judea and enjoys using his power to scare and intimidate the people he rules. His throne in a lion’s mouth frightens those who come to see him. Ask: Why do you think Herod uses his power in such mean ways? What other ways could Herod use his power? How would people respond differently if Herod changed his ways?
Baby preparations. When Mary is about to have the baby, everyone works together to get ready. Joseph finds a place to stay and prepares a makeshift crib. Fig guards the door. Invite children to imagine that they, too, are there helping. Say: Close your eyes and imagine you are in the stable with Mary, Joseph, and the animals. (pause) Look around you. (pause) What else needs to be done to prepare for the baby’s birth? (pause) Imagine yourself helping to get things ready (pause) How do you feel as you do your part? (pause) Slowly open your eyes. Encourage children to share what they did to help and how they felt as they worked.
Wise gifts. Each magi (wise person) brings something special. One brings gold to help pay for things on the family’s journey, one brings frankincense, which has a soothing smell to help the baby sleep, and one brings myrrh, which he says is good for everything else. Invite children to pretend they are magi and draw a picture of a gift they would bring for the baby. Encourage them to share the reason behind their gift.