Monday, December 24, 2012


Angel.  Painting by Laura.

I have always liked Nativity plays.  Often one would be put on at our local church, for the Christmas service.  It was usually mostly acted by children, other times adults would be involved as well.  Usually there were few rehearsals.  It was "home spun" amateur theatre, very much so, but it was an event to be treasured for all that.

I remember one year, that someone had made a few changes to the usual Christmas story, and the shepherds had a little mob of pigs to look after on the hill above Bethlehem, on that starry night when they were visited by angels wearing sheets of faded striped flannelette.

There was a clever arrangement where the cardboard pigs were strung on a line across the church near the front, and were pulled across from one side to the other... like they were flying through the air... , but something jammed and a cardboard pig stuck halfway swaying and twitching fantastically as the string was tugged to try to free it.

There was a Nativity where a very young and tired Mary, with a snotty nose, held Jesus by the chubby arm (or was it a leg?) and swung him in a distracted manner. Mary's cheeks were flushed and she looked a little feverish. There was probably some bug going around at school that year just before the school holiday.

Mary sucked her thumb, and looked over her shoulder at a point on the ceiling as a breathless Joseph struggled with his lines. They did not appear a happy couple. Meanwhile the Infant Jesus swung in slow circles.

My sister and... um... Well, it was taken rather a long time ago!

This "Jesus" was a large fat, and scary looking, plastic doll. Scary because one blue eye that should have blinked realistically had been jammed open years before, probably someone stuck a pencil in it, and now the eye seemed to stare accusingly at anyone who dared to come close.

The doll was obviously feminine, but that did not seemed to matter, she was back year after year, and looked OK when safely buried deep enough in straw in the manger so that you could see the top of her head, and maybe one chubby arm, but not a lot else.

There was the year when the three wise men left the church through the vestry door after doing their part in the play, and got locked out until the end of the service.  The vestry door had snibbed shut behind them, and the main door of the church had been shut from the inside, because there was a strong wind blowing.  The wise men had to spend the next half hour or so sheltering in the church hall, until the service was over.

I love plays like these. There is always a drama behind the drama.

There are children that arrive to church at the last minute, towed by a breathless and aggravated parent who simply could not find the safety pins to do up the shepherd's costumes, and garden twine had to be used... in quantity, so now the shepherds are trussed and tied so tightly that they look like more like a Sunday roast!

And there is the wise man that cannot say "Frankincense" no matter how many times he has been made to try.

So much can go wrong, and yet so much goes right. Somehow, as these adenoidal angels and stuttering shepherds and unwise wise men stand with feverish Mary, grumpy Joseph, and a fidgeting two person donkey, and they gather around the plastic scary doll in the manger, a miracle takes place.

We see beyond the sheets and the cardboard wings; and beneath the tin foil star we are taken back to an exhausted couple in another place and time.

They are standing by a manger with a real child. They are so tired, fearful, and yet there is a Joy that is spreading. Somehow in the early hours of the morning this young girl Mary has produced this beautiful baby. Their Jesus.

Joseph feels oddly proud, and protective too. He has grown to love Mary, even though their relationship went through a rocky patch with the disgrace of her getting pregnant when they were only just engaged. But he feels closer to her now than he has ever been before, and this little child in the manger, so frail and yet so alive, he will love him and care for him with every fibre of his being.

There are footsteps approaching. Who are these men, at this hour of the night, dressed in the rough clothes of farm workers? They are not drunk, thank goodness. Do they want something from the stable? It is almost too dark to see in here.

But, what is this?  The men are kneeling around the manger, close to the child, and yet they are not a threat. These men of the hills are happy, gentle and quiet, and gaze in awe.

Somewhere far above in the very starry night sky voices are singing.

Shooting Star Angel.  Painting by Laura

Happy Christmas to you all!


Linda Starr said...

sky voices are singing, happy christmas to you and laura and to your kittens and to all.

Tracey Broome said...

Merry Christmas Peter and Laura!!
I always look forward to reading your posts. This one reminded me of the year Wesley was the angel that spoke to the shepherds. She was a tiny thing and I was so afraid she would forget her lines, but she performed beautifully. Luckily I knew she was to be the angel around Halloween and the local costume shop had wonderful angel costumes so I didn't have to spend hours making one!

Michèle Hastings said...

Merry Christmas, and may the New Year bring much happiness and joy to your family!

Arkansas Patti said...

Peter, this was a delightful, laugh out loud, yet tender post. Absolutely loved it!!!
Also pretty sure I've said it before but I love Laura's work. You are both so talented.
Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and a healthy, happy

Judy Shreve said...

What a delightful post, Peter! I laughed and smiled. Merry Christmas to you and Laura. Her angels are wonderful!

cookingwithgas said...

oh what a great post... life behind the scenes can be as much fun as what we get to see. I think that is what we do for many folks that see us. A play, a wedding, a performance in some ways.
Laura's is work just wonderful.
Merry Christmas Peter. Will there be pudding?

Angie said...

What a great post Lauras angels too.Eat Drink and be merry on this special day xx

Peter said...

Thank you everyone for your comments and Christmas Greetings, it was lovely to hear from you on Christmas Day. Glad that you enjoyed the post, and it was nice to be able to show a couple of Laura's angels too. Merry Christmas! P & L

smartcat said...

Wonderful post!

Merry Christmas to you and Laura!

Armelle Léon Bitterolf said...

Merry Christmas to Laura and Peter, lovely angels from Laura, I send you my best wishes for the new year 2013 and I am sorry that Santa is so late !!!

angela walford said...

very cool work by laura and i feel for those poor blokes stuck in the cupoard as it were on a very chilly evening, thanks

Peter said...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Smartcat, it is good to hear from you.

Merry Christmas Armelle,
Santa arrived after all!! Thank you so much!

Happy New Year Angela,
Lovely to hear from you. A hall rather than a "cupboard" so not that bad really, but chilly though all the same! It was nice to put a couple of Laura's angels on the blog, they are lovely.

Angie said...

Hope you both had a great Xmas ...we were well enough to enjoy the festivities but my sons family didn't make it we will have a second Xmas in the New Year....the cats loved the left overs ...even the veggies!!!!Hugs xx

Peter said...

Hello Angie,
Nice to hear from you. I am so glad that you were well enough to have some Christmas Celebrations after all, it did seem rather a grim time for you all in the run up to Christmas. Glad that the cats entered into the spirit of things enough to eat left over veggies! Kind thoughts and hope health improves for you all.
Thanks for the hugs, much appreciated! xx

Teresa Evangeline said...

Oh, peter, this is absolutely wonderful. it has a sense of humor I so appreciate and brings to mind so many Christmas programs I was in as a child or my sons were in at school. I went from laughing out loud at some of your descriptions (wonderfully written by the way) to big goosebumps at the end with your very realistic description of the family and the visitors to the manger. Very Nice.

Peter said...

Hi Teresa,
Lovely to hear from you. Laughter is a wonderful thing, and so are "goosebumps". I know it did me some good to write this post. Christmas passes so rapidly for us here, as we are very busy and often tired at this time, and it was lovely to take a few hours to write about the Christmas story.. it gave me a chance to experience it and not just let it pass by.

Jill M Hodgson said...

I loved reading this, and Laura's paintings are the perfect illustrations.
I was transported back to my infant school around 1960, the year I was picked to be Mary in the Nativity play and wore the plain blue dress and white head covering. Such pride I felt, walking on with Joseph (who didn't enjoy the teasing) Later years I was demoted to animal status, a silent Extra around the manger, still great fun though. What an innocent era that seems, looking back now.

Peter said...

Hi Jill,
Good to hear from you, and thank you for the memories too. I am sure that you would have made a lovely Mary, but I did have a chuckle when I read the line about being "demoted to animal status!"

Reading your comment, I took a little journey back in my mind to a scene at my primary school (also in the 1960s) where a shy and/or grumpy Mary didn't want to hold hands with a ginger haired and freckly Joseph. I remember that my favourite song then was "Squirrel Nutkin" which I suspect I insisted on singing to the class at any opportunity and at any season of the year. (I wonder if you sang the song at your primary school??)