The Mayor and Town Council of Bethlehem got their wish for a new star on Nov. 21, when a brand new beacon was raised over the town square.
A familiar landmark in the little town since the 1950s, the star of Bethlehem is anchored to a phone pole about 45 feet above the town. It shines its light symbolically announcing the birth of Christ from the end of November until the end of the year. A live nativity scene is staged under its illumination each year by members of the Bethlehem First United Methodist Church.
In years past, the star could be seen from miles away.
The Bethlehem Town Council voted earlier this year to replace the star that had long shown the way to the Barrow County community, which shares ties with Biblical Bethlehem.
The star’s illumination had dimmed some through the years, but pilgrims still found their way to get holiday mail stamped and postmarked at the Bethlehem Post Office.
This year, a new post office and a new star will beckon.
A boom lift and a bucket truck were rented to take down the existing star and a new model has gone up in its place.
Councilman Wayne Ridgeway, an electrician by trade, volunteered to ride in the bucket and Mayor Sandy McNab operated the crane.
Ridgeway was dwarfed by the 12-foot-by-12-foot manmade nova and estimated the solid steel structure weighs about 250 pounds.
“It was pretty rusty,” he said. “It was time to redo it.”
Ridgeway enlisted the assistance of several in the community in making the new star, including Larry Brown, who ordered the steel for the new star and Louie Martin, who cut the pieces and welded it all together. Both men are machinists. The Methodist Men’s group of Bethlehem First UMC pledged $1,000 toward repair of the star.
“Their intention was to pay for materials if we did the labor and that way the church would keep some ownership in the star,” said Ridgeway.
The trick to creating the five-pointed star was to figure the exact diameter of the starting circle in order to get the points equal in length.
“I asked my grandson if he could figure the diameter in his high school shop class,” said Ridgeway, “but it actually took CAD (computer aided design).”
Bethlehem Councilman Jeff Longino offered to calculate the dimensions since he had CAD software. The design shows exactly 12 feet between the star points.
“Making the five-prong star exact was important,” said Ridgeway, “because it is a symbol of Christianity associated with the birth of the savior, Jesus Christ.”
In Matthew 2, the wise men followed a star toward Jerusalem in search of the newborn king. From there the star led them to Bethlehem to the stable where Jesus was born. When they found the child with his mother, they bowed and worshiped him, presenting him with gifts.
Ridgeway and a fellow electrician wired the new star using traffic signal light fixtures. On Nov. 21, Keith Ridgeway, Wayne’s son, assisted in anchoring the new star to the pole.
“He’s a little more comfortable in a bucket lift since he works for Georgia Power,” Ridgeway said of his son.
Featuring 100-watt incandescent bulbs, now the star can be seen from several miles away. A timing sensor was also added to illuminate the star after dark and turn it off at daybreak.
So once again the star of Bethlehem is the center of attraction during Christmastime in this small community in southeast Barrow County.
The live Nativity scene is Dec. 22 and 23 every year at 7 and 8 p.m. on the town square which is, where else, but under the star of Bethlehem.