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VOL. 35 | NO. 51 | Friday, December 23, 2011

Too much drama at the Christmas pageant

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Again it is the time of year that reminds me of Christmas programs, such as the one recounted by John Irving in A Prayer for Owen Meany.

It was directed annually by the Rev. and Mrs. Wiggin. It made Owen mad because “the smaller children were disguised as turtledoves. The costumes were so absurd that no one knew what these children were supposed to be; they resembled science-fiction angels, spectacular life-forms from another galaxy, as if the Wiggins had decided that the Holy Nativity had been attended by beings from faraway planets.”

A la Away in a Manger, the Wiggins insisted Baby Jesus make no crying. They “were relentless in gathering dozens of babies backstage; [and] the Christ Child was whisked from the manger at the first unholy croak or gurgle” and subbed for.

It bothered Owen that “whoever played Joseph was always smirking.” Owen, who speaks in capital letters, asks, “WHAT DOES JOSEPH HAVE TO DO WITH ANY OF IT? … I SUPPOSE HE HAS TO STAND AROUND THE MANGER, BUT HE SHOULDN’T SMIRK!” It peeved Owen that “the prettiest girl” was always given the Mary part. “WHAT DOES PRETTY HAVE TO DO WITH IT? … WHO SAYS MARY WAS PRETTY?’”

At 32, I played Joseph opposite a pretty girl to whom I am still married. We landed these parts because our 4-month-old was solicited to play Jesus. Our 3-year-old, dressed as an angel, was to stand with us. A dozen teen-age angels danced to a ballet arrangement of a carol. Mary and I marveled that the tiny angel at the rear of the dance line – skipping and whirling as the spirit moved her – resembled our daughter. Strike that! She was our daughter. We’d been busy keeping Baby Jesus quiet.

Which leads to Dr. William Meuhl’s experience. The former Yale divinity professor and his wife were at a nursery school Christmas play where three Virgin Marys and two Josephs appeared on stage. The school had received three Mary costumes and two Josephs over time and did not want any to go to waste.

The Holy Quintet were followed by 20 angels in diaphanous gowns with large gauze wings. Then came shepherds, 20 boys “dressed in burlap sacks and clutching an assortment of saplings which purported to be crooks. At this point an unfortunate discovery came to light.”

To be sure the angels and shepherds “struck a pleasantly-balanced array on stage.” The director, using chalk, had made a circle on the floor for each angel and a cross for each shepherd. She’d told the kids to find and stand on their marks. Unwisely, this had been done when they were wearing shorts, skirts, and blue jeans. “When the angels came on, in their flowing robes, each of them covered not only their own circle, but the adjacent cross as well.

“The shepherds began looking for their places. Angels were treated as they had never been treated before. And at last, one little boy who had suffered through as much of this nonsense as he could handle, turned to where the teacher in charge was quietly going mad, and announced angrily: ‘These damn angels are fouling up the whole show! They’ve hidden all the crosses.’

“Needless to say, his mother and I were deeply embarrassed.”

Happy holidays!

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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