There are still some nativity figures, larger than life ones, outside some churches in Prague and I am told that in Eastern Europe they wait until the Jesus, Joseph and Mary leave Nazareth to avoid the mass murdering of young boys by Herod. This reminds me of my own nativity experience this Christmas.
I had been asked to take charge at our local church in the UK and come up with a walk-on nativity play for the little ones on Christmas morning. The priest is new, apparently he was working in Africa and has come back here to the UK for a bit of a rest. The Church in Africa can have up to 100 Baptisms on a typical Sunday mass, so he would have been working much harder there than here in Lambourn. He wanted the nativity to take place before Mass started.
I was really nervous about standing up in front of the whole parish and all the Christmas visitors, I had to draw their attention to the fact that proceedings had started. I offered a loud ‘Good Morning!’ followed by an even louder ‘Merry Christmas!’ and eventually there was a little hush. My first task was to get in the cast members. We needed all the usual suspects, Mary, Joseph, Inn keeper, Angels, Shepherds and Kings. Thankfully eldest daughter was happy to come along and help me, as we stood there in front of everyone on the altar, (she is training to be a teacher, so it was good practice). A teeny tiny little girl came forward and offered herself as Mary, she was not yet three. I asked her to wear a white scarf around her head, typical Mary fashion, to which she replied with “I want to be Joseph’. Another little boy, about four was Joseph, but he soon lost his cool when he noticed that everyone was looking at him and he rejoined his family in the pews. We quickly had a new Joseph, 18 months old, holding his big, four year old sister’s hand. She became the ‘Donkey Handler’. Luckily in Lambourn we have many jockeys, so the term Donkey Handler raised a chuckle, especially as the children were that of a champion jockey.
The Angel Gabriel read from a sheet of paper to narrate the play, then stopped. We had to improvise with the story, the Inn Keeper was good and trumped up with ‘We’re full!’ . The shepherds had a toy stuffed sheep , belonging to youngest daughter, she sleeps with it every night at boarding school and was very nervous that some little treasure might vomit or dribble on it and cause her to catch a childhood disease like Scarlatina. The three kings had on paper gold crowns, we had retrieved them from the in-laws the night before when we had pulled our crackers. They were carrying the gifts of gold, (perfume bottle) Myrrh, (fancy candle) and Frankincense, in a jewellery chest. It was all rather hectic, luckily the congregation were on our side and I think we managed to complete the nativity story in about seven minutes. Suddenly there was a dark Jack Russell terrier on the alter with the children – only in Lambourn can that not even raise a flicker of worry or concern. The little treasures returned to their families whist the congregation applauded them appropriately.
Outside the church: Father Christmas could be seen through the big clear glass doors! It was one of the trainers, on a horse, dressed as Father Christmas, with his children on their ponies, dressed as elves, throwing sweets and chocolate at anyone they passed. Again, only in Lambourn does no one even register that it might be a little bit unusual, anything to do with dogs and ponies is pretty much business as usual.
On the way home, friends said they had enjoyed the whole nativity however wondered why I had added the dog …....