Celebrate the true meaning of Christmas with a Bethlehem Dinner tradition. The simplicity and humble nature of the first Christmas is a beautiful way to celebrate the season.
This has become one of our new favorite Christmas traditions. It’s peaceful, it’s fun, and everyone in the family enjoys an evening where we feel like we live in a simpler time. The young children love it as much as the adults and it's a great way to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Traditional Christmas celebrations don’t have to come with a hefty price tag or the pressure of keeping up appearances. The first Christmas certainly didn’t. My family and I have made this special dinner a tradition to remind us of what really matters.
While the hustle and bustle of this magical time of year is delightful and I love hosting parties with all the fixings like pancake spaghetti (Elf style), frosted ginger cookies, and easy Christmas popcorn, sometimes it’s nice to slow down with my husband and children and take a break from all of that. We like to remind ourselves why we celebrate this time of year.
So, I wanted to share this tradition with you this Christmas season. Maybe this time of year is stressful for you, maybe you’re feeling like you just need a break.
I hope a simple feast like this will help bring back the extra bit of magic you need for this holiday season. Sometimes I even set up all the finger foods like a Christmas charcuterie board to make it nice and easy (and pretty).
This non-commercialized feast is fun for the whole family. Our family likes to sit down at a low table (like a coffee table) set up cushions around it so we’re sitting on the floor, and tell the story of how Mary and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem. We talk about the humble circumstances in which the baby Jesus was born.
We light candles or oil lamps and turn out all the other lights in the house to talk about the first Christmas. Our Immanuel wreath candle holder is a crown of candles with different names of Christ on the wood base. The candles create a warm, inviting glow and a cozy atmosphere.
We use wooden plates and eat with our hands instead of silverware like they might have done in biblical times. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, the kiddos LOVE to eat with their hands. It makes a feast like this even more fun for the whole family.
We eat foods that (we think) would have been served in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’s birth. (Except a turkey. My husband likes to have a roasted turkey at this dinner as well.)
Why you should host this kind of dinner
- A dinner like this allows the true meaning of Christmas to have a place in the season.
- We can be reminded of the first Christmas and experience it for ourselves.
- This kind of feast is an experience the children will remember for years to come.
- It brings gratitude and humility to Christmas in a fun and memorable way.
What to serve
There are so many traditional foods you can serve for this beautiful dinner. You certainly don’t have to serve all of these options, but you can use them to gather ideas and build off of them.
Serve your favorite simple foods on wood plates or in brown bags folded down. Here are a few menus ideas:
- Stuffed grape leaves – A combination of cooked rice, lemon juice, herbs and spices are wrapped up in softened grape leaves.
- Goat cheese – This was the most traditional cheese at the time of Christ’s birth.
- Unleavened bread – We often use pita bread for this. Feel free to use whatever you like best.
- Olives – Olives were a staple of the time. I recommend either black and green olives.
- Nuts – Pistachios, walnuts, and almonds were abundant during the time of Christ. Often they were roasted and seasoned just like today!
- Roasted turkey – Poultry was one of the more common meats to eat at the time, but still reserved for larger, fancier feasts. And my husband loves his turkey.
- Dates – Dates are a delicious sweet treat that go perfectly to serve together with the goat cheese and honey.
- Honey – Another way to add a bit of sweetness to the meal if you so choose.
- Olive oil – At the time, it was common to dip the unleavened bread into olive oil for a bit of extra flavor and moisture.
- Fish – Cooked fish was one of the most prevalent sources of animal protein at the time of Christ’s birth.
- Figs – Another sweet fruit that I like to use in a similar way to the dates listed above.
- Lentils – This was a popular side dish that provided plenty of protein and flavor.
- Chickpeas or hummus – I like to serve either of these options at this dinner. The hummus is flavorful and spreadable, making it easy to dip the unleavened bread into, while the chickpeas can be eaten like the nuts.
- Fresh fruit - Grapes, apples, and pomegranates are great additions to this Bethlehem supper
How to host a Bethlehem Dinner
Set the scene
As I mentioned earlier, we love to light candles or oil lamps and turn off the lights and the modern amenities. This makes the atmosphere cozy and intimate in a way that few other things can. The kids love it just as much as the adults do.
We also like to sit around a low coffee table or set up the feast closer to the floor. We often set this up in the living room for something more intimate.
The kids love to sit on cushions and blankets because it’s something different and fun. We also set the table with wooden plates and cups and we choose to eat with our hands just like they would have long ago.
Tell the Christmas story
This dinner is a perfect opportunity to tell the story of how Jesus was born. We like to recount Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem by donkey. We talk about how there was no room in the inn where they tried to say and spent the night in a stable where Jesus was born.
The kids love to help tell the story and insert their favorite parts. Then we like to talk about the story as a family.
A dinner like this is a fun way about this story over the foods they would have eaten at the time of Jesus. It brings a realness to the story that makes this tradition special.
I hope you love this tradition as much as my family and I do. This is a special way to bring in the true meaning of Christmas back to the forefront and make this season simpler and unique.