“I’m going to be Mary in the Christmas play. And if you try to be, or raise
your arm, you’ll wish you didn’t.”
– Imogene Herdman
Unlike Imogene Herdman in Barbara Robinson’s poignant story “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” I never threatened anyone in order to be cast in the annual Nativity play.
Truth be told, shy kids like me lived in fear of being plopped into a role as each holiday season arrived.
But at All Saints Episcopal Church in my hometown of Grenada, chances were great that every kid would have to play at least one part. There weren’t that many of us.
So, shrugging off any theatrical – and spiritual – responsibility bestowed upon me was out of the question.
Most years, my sister and I were cast as angels, and making our wings proved a creative challenge for our parents.
They were made of stiff cardboard, our wings, and covered with aluminum foil. Once attached to our white choir robes, the wings looked quite angelic. But walking through doorways could be tricky.
With halo added for extra effect, we were ready to huddle near the holy family and sing our hearts out – “Glory to the newborn king.”
Gabriel was the only angel with dialogue. We just sang and became a part of the heavenly hosts who joined the angel Gabriel after his talk with the abiding shepherds.
Our props were simple: a campfire and a cradle.
The campfire around which the shepherds huddled, was made of small stacked sticks. Red tissue paper was shoved around the sticks to signify shooting flames.
A flashlight hidden under the sticks made the red paper glow.
The manger, also made of sticks, was where Mary laid her boy child.
That was a coveted role. Even I wished to step out of my shyness to someday play the role.
She wore a blue robe, actually got to say a few words and was the mother of Jesus. Couldn’t get much better than that.
When the time finally arrived for me to shed my angel wings and halo and assume a starring role, I was scared to death, but also excited.
Not only would I be Mary, but the cutest boy in church would be my Joseph.
I couldn’t eat.
I couldn’t sleep.
I practiced for hours reading the Magnificat – the words Mary spoke after her visit with Gabriel.
And the Saturday before the pageant I was ready.
Sunday morning we had dress rehearsal instead of Sunday school. I paid little attention in church. My thoughts were of the performance I would give later in the day. I was certain acting awards would be part of my future.
They were not.
Two hours before the pageant I became violently ill with a stomach virus.
“The show much go on,” I told my parents.
My father mumbled something about how it wouldn’t look right for Mary to throw up in the manger.
So my understudy sat in the stable with Joseph and Jesus. And I stayed home.
Away from the manger.
Contact Leslie Criss at leslie.criss@ djournal.com or (662) 678-1584.
Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal