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Bethlehem Supper

Bethlehem Supper
A Christmas Eve Tradition

Enjoy a taste of the real night before the Savior was born with this Bethlehem Supper. It is quick and easy to prepare, a boon for mom when things can otherwise be quite hectic. The simple foods are a refreshing taste change from the rich holiday foods. Eating what Joseph and Mary may have eaten transports us to a different time and experience, and keeps us more mindful of our Savior’s birth. It also makes a meaningful prelude to reading the chapter in Luke or re-enacting the nativity.

You can create a very simple supper or a more elaborate experience. Here’s some things we have done:

*Play instrumental folk music from Israel in the background.

*Dress up in robes and sandals, pretending you are travelers at an inn in Bethlehem.

*Set the scene with palm fronds, oil lamps, simple pottery or wooden dishes, small earthtone candles (no electric lights).

*Have guests wash their hands in a large bowl with a pitcher of water before eating.

*Sit on the floor on blankets or pillows and use a low table for the food. If you are very courageous or don’t have little ones, you can spread the tablecloth right on the floor.

At the time Jesus was born, the large meal of the day may have included wheat bread, cheese, vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils and eggs. Fish or chicken was the most common meat. Beef and lamb were served only on special occasions (the fatted calf at the return of the prodigal son). Pork and seafoods such as crab, lobster or shrimp were forbidden. Food was boiled in a big pot seasoned with onions, garlic, cumin, coriander, mint, dill or mustard, and salt. Sweets included wild honey, dates and grapes. Food was eaten by dipping fingers into a common bowl.

Here are some menu ideas to choose from:

Hummus (recipe below)
Fish sticks
Goat cheese (called “feta”)
Raw veggie tray with dip
Cheese and cracker platter
Braided Jewish bread
Grape juice or grapes
Tomato and cucumber salad
Dates and figs (can twist a few in gold tissue paper and put by each place setting as a treat)
Orange slices


Make your own, try these easy recipes:

Hummus—Middle Eastern Sandwich Spread

To make a Middle Eastern sandwich, open a half pita and spread hummus inside. Then add chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions if you like, and drizzle with yogurt and cumin. Very delicious, healthy and authentic.

2 cups cooked garbanzo beans, or 1 can (15 oz.) drained (reserve liquid)
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
1/2 small clove of garlic
Dash of freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Put all ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth, adding a bit of cooking liquid (or liquid from canned beans) if needed to make a thick dip. Spread on pita bread, crackers, or use as a dip for vegetables. Serves 8.

Pita Bread

Easy to make, magical to watch puff up in the oven, and delicious to serve with hummus, above.

1 teaspoon yeast
1/2 cups warm water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup white wheat flour or whole wheat)

Sesame seeds

Put warm water in a mixing bowl with yeast. Stir in salt and enough flour to make a stiff dough. This may be a bit more or less. Knead dough until smooth. Cover and let rise. Break off a walnut sized ball of dough and roll out on a floured surface until 1/4″ thickness, or pat them quite thin patty-cake style. When pita is formed, you may press it onto a plate of sesame seeds if you like. Lay gently on cookie sheet, without touching. To insure that they bubble up, forming a pocket, preheat hot oven before putting pitas in to bake. Bake at 450° for about 8 minutes. They should not brown or get crisp, but should still be soft. Makes 6 pitas.

(recipes from Hopkins’ Healthy Home Cooking)

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  • Ann December 26, 2014, 8:16 am

    We enjoyed our Bethlehem supper this year. It was our first, but I am planning to include it again as it was such a wonderful way to focus our Christmas Eve.