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Delmont pilgrimage continues 44-year tradition

| Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, 2:33 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For Trib Total Media
Christmas in Salem Crossroads Pilgrimage, a walking journey to Bethlehem, tells the story of the first Christmas portrayed by actors from local churches and communities. The two-weekend event in Delmont ended Sunday night, Dec. 13.
Lillian DeDomenic | For Trib Total Media
Maliek Pretlor (Shepherd), 11, and Sarah Richards (Mary), 12, prepare for their roles in the Christmas in Salem Crossroads production in 2016, which tells the story of the first Christmas.

As holiday traditions of shopping, baking and decorating begin, many people will embark on another, more tranquil tradition, one offering a spiritual walk through the past.

Christmas in Salem Crossroads has for 44 years attracted visitors from near and far to Delmont, where they travel through live depictions of the first Christmas.

Guides escort groups through vignettes including the Prophecy, the Annunciation, Caesar's Decree, Mary and Joseph's journey, the Nativity and more.

Visitors can warm up and enjoy fellowship and treats at five participating churches.

“We have a nice crew, nice costumes, live animals. We tried fake animals one year, and people were disappointed,” says planning committee member Joan Chiea of Delmont.

Families who once brought children in strollers now bring their grandchildren to the event, Chiea says.

The pilgrimage lasts about 25 minutes and is handicapped accessible. Wheelchairs are available, Chiea says.

This year's pilgrimage is scheduled for Dec. 2, 3 and 4. Planners hope to attract 3,000 visitors over the course of the event.

In previous years, the pilgrimage was held over two back-to-back weekends. Committee members, aware that the many children who lend their talents to the pilgrimage often have multiple holiday and sports activities, decided to try a three-day weekend, Chiea says.

Three sets of actors are needed to portray Mary and Joseph alone. Shepherds, angels and wise men often are played by children who repeat their roles year after year.

David Morris of Export has played Caesar for almost 20 years.

“I put my own little touches on it,” he says.

Morris gives his audience a “stern” glance, he says, as he informs them they must return to their hometowns and participate in a census.

“There are lots of people behind the scenes you don't see,” Morris says. “It's really involved and intense. The people who set this up have done a great job. ... It's a wonderful way to get the holiday season started.”

Church stops are:

• Salem Lutheran Church, where a “Galleria of Trees” will be on display in the upstairs Newhouse Hall of the John W. Hanks Education building. Soups, sandwiches, cookies and beverages will be available.

• Trinity United Church of Christ, where an old-fashioned Civil War-era worship service will include the singing of Christmas carols. Children's skits, a puppet ministry, Nativity scenes and musical entertainment are planned. Those with an adventurous sweet tooth can sample fried Oreos and fried peanut butter cups.

Downstairs, the Delmont Salvation Army will host a cozy Christmas scene of stuffed animals, decorated trees and a train display.

“We do a visit with Santa Claus, and volunteers help visitors personally decorate gingerbread cookies,” says Walter Bossart, Delmont service director.

The service unit also will accept donations to its annual Red Kettle campaign.

“I call that ‘out of town money,' ” Bossart says, chuckling.

• Delmont Presbyterian Church's theme of “The Reason for the Season” will include popcorn, homemade cookies and cocoa.

• Faith United Methodist Church will offer “Ye Ole General Store.” Antique farm and household items will be on display, and children can shell corn to take home to feed Santa's reindeer. Handmade arts and crafts, collectible items and gifts from Third World nations through fair trade organization Serrv will be sold. Entertainment will include On Our Way Home from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 2. Eastern Area Youth Chorale from 6 to 7 p.m. and On With the Show from 7 to 9 p.m. Dec. 3 and Steel City Quartet from 7 to 9 p.m. Dec. 4.

Clowns Glitter Dot and Dan will visit to make balloon animals and offer face painting. Hearty winter fare will include meatball hoagies, ham barbecue sandwiches, corn chowder, hot sausage, hot dogs and sauerkraut, homemade pies, cakes and cookies and the church's famous hot apple dumplings, served with cinnamon sauce and ice cream.

• St. John the Baptist de la Salle Catholic Church will offer a live pine Advent wreath in its driveway entrance. One candle will be lit each week of Advent. Inside, a Jesse Tree (decorated with symbols from Bible stories) and Advent calendar will be on view, with crafters offering specialty handiwork and homemade nut horns. Appetites can be sated with homemade potato and Italian wedding soup, pizza, made-to-order hot turkey sandwiches, fruit and cream pies, cakes and cookies, punch, cocoa, coffee and tea.

The pilgrimage is held entirely outside, so those attending should dress warmly. Bus transportation to and from the pilgrimage and churches will be provided from designated parking areas.

Chiea, a member of St. John Baptist de la Salle Catholic Church, has worked on the event for 27 years.

She coordinates her church's participation and also photographs the pilgrimage.

“It's a Delmont gem. I've not known any other pilgrimage to be like it,” Chiea says.

Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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