Father Brown (of the BBC mystery series) was chided by the bishop for a poor performance by the children in the Christmas pageant the previous year. Mary, it transpired, had ridden to the stable on a goat; the baby had been greeted by “five wise men, two Cocker Spaniels and the Lone Ranger.” Anyone who has experienced the joy of orchestrating a school Christmas concert or a full-blown nativity pageant with the children in the Sunday school classes will understand.
The Episcopal Church in my hometown used to have a live nativity scene every evening through the week before Christmas. The livestock varied, depending on whoever could round up whatever in time to be brought to town. Donkeys are not very popular around here, being, so far as I can tell, not of much practical use. In the years we attended, the only objection to Mary riding a mule was made by a very small Joseph who couldn’t get the animal to move on cue.
It takes more people and better planning than a Cecil B. DeMille movie to put on a live nativity scene with child actors. It seems a shame that, in a rural community, none of our churches have live nativity scenes. In this day of everything being “politically correct,” I guess we should appreciate having even one of the inflatable variety. Driving through a small New Mexico town a few years ago, I saw one of those blow-up nativity scenes in a residential area. The bishop would have had a stroke seeing the baby Jesus being adored by The Grinch.
The holidays are a wonderful time for elementary school teachers, music teachers, art teachers and, of course, parents of very young children. By the time your kids have reached even the upper grades, they no longer believe in Santa. The “elf on the shelf” forgets to come out of the box where it’s been stored. And they’re not “into” making the zany, misshapen animals of clay or papier mache. I haven’t shopped in a Toys R Us store for quite a long while, but I was still saddened to hear that they are going out of business, as is Mattel, home to Barbie and all of her friends. The face of childhood is changing. Fewer dolls appear under the tree on Christmas morning: by the time they’re 5 or so, little girls want cell phones. BB guns are still on the list for Santa but I think the X-Box games get more play (a little unintended “double entendre” here) from the boys.
As with the annual office party, Christmas festivities at the schools are “holiday parties.” A superintendent now would never ask the art teacher to have his/her students design and paint a “City of Bethlehem” backdrop for the church Christmas play: it did not seem “out of place” to get that request in the small district where I taught some years ago. My students also painted murals in all of the halls at the high school, and at a dental clinic that served the entire county population. We were truly a “community.” And ecumenical as well: the “City of Bethlehem” went from one church to another as needed.
In our family, there were always more “home-made gifts” than items purchased at the local “five and dime.” Children brought home the oddly-shaped and overly-decorated presents they’d made in school; if they had a talented parent, other gifts were made at home. It was a real Christmas miracle that my sister Micki and I didn’t set the entire house on fire the year we learned how to “frost” candles. My mom encouraged creativity to the point of being a threat to the entire neighborhood.
You can still take the family out to cut down your own tree. There are stores that sell live trees. But I think more homes have the artificial trees that don’t require looping miles of twinkle lights ‘round and ‘round, from top to bottom. And that don’t shed needles all over the floor. I can’t complain: at least it’s still a Christmas tree and not a “holiday bush.”
So, have yourself a merry little Christmas. And for those of you still wondering about the Lone Ranger at the manger: if the sheep have shepherds, the cows need a cowboy. It’s childhood logic and not to be questioned at this time of year.