Monday, November 30, 2009

The Christmas Play

(This is a repeat of a post from 2007)

In the church of my childhood one of the major events that took place during the weeks leading up to Christmas was the Christmas Play.

I have no idea how the casting was done. Somehow, parts would be assigned and rehearsals would begin. The cast and crew would work for weeks and weeks in preparation for the single performance that would take place on a Sunday night a couple of weeks before Christmas.

The plays were horrible.

They were also wonderful.

If you want to get a feel for what they were like, watch the movie Waiting for Guffman, which revolves around a community theatre production. Compared to the Christmas plays at Midway Baptist Church, the play in the movie was Tony-worthy.

To be fair, that play was a musical. We did drama at Midway.

I don’t remember the plots. I do remember some of the scenes.

I remember my overall-clad father, standing at an open window outside of which a red light glowed, declaring “That’s a big fire (he pronounced it ‘far’) over there (he pronounced it ‘thar.’)” I suspect that he had pronounced it straight during the rehearsals. Daddy was a ham.

I remember two brothers, portrayed by Randy Berry (later to become my college roommate)and Danny Bates (later to become my stepbrother), getting into a fight over a toy—I think it was a toy train—under a Christmas tree.

I remember my one and only appearance in one of the plays. The play was set in a department store. I was in line at a cash register. I wanted to buy a gift for my sick mother. With my quarter I planned to purchase a gray rose. Who ever saw a gray rose? The nice clerk told me that for the same quarter I could purchase a pretty red one.

It was stark, moving drama. Preacher Bill rolled in laughter during the entire scene.

I remember the obligatory nativity scene near the end of each play. It was usually a dream sequence, I think. Somehow, though, they got the Christmas Story into whatever Christmas story they were telling.

Like I said, the plays were horrible. It would be kind to call our actors amateurs. But like I also said, they were wonderful. They were wonderful because those were our church members, our friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ, up there on that stage making fools of themselves, whether they knew it or not, all for the sake of our entertainment and especially for the sake of telling the story of Christmas.

They were wonderful exactly because of their amateurish character. In these days of slick production values and hyper-critical “make sure it’s quality stuff” church audiences, it’s refreshing to remember the sincerity and maybe even integrity of those cheesy performances.

But the main reason they were wonderful is in the point that was made: the Christmas Story is our story. The epiphany in those plays had to do with the fact that the Christ who came at Christmas comes into our run of the mill lives in our run of the mill world and changes things—he changes us.

Yes, he came to the manger and was visited by shepherds; yes, angels announced his coming; yes, something marvelous and miraculous happened all those years ago.

Just as much of a miracle, though, is that it still happens now.

And that’s what those awfully terrific and terrifically awful Christmas plays taught me.


Randy said...

I remember the "gift bags" with an orange,an apple, some candy, and some nuts (those left over from participating in the Christmas play).

Joe said...

I always liked this poem, but I never could get a group of kids to make it into a good or bad play.
Joe W. Davis

Christmas Rides a Cow Pony

By Randy Waller

His back trail was empty
As snow covered their tracks.
His boots froze to the stirrups
And chills ran down his back.

If he could only find a place
Out from under the winter storm,
He’d give his pony some grain
And build a fire to keep ‘em warm.

Then at once, as if by fate,
He spied the rising air of smoke,
And saw a cabin among the pines,
Half buried by three days snow.

He rode right up to the door,
Where a woman met his stare.
A small boy and girl looked on,
As she questioned his presence there.

He said, “Ma’am, I’m tired, cold, and wet.
I’ve been rid’n for more’n a week.
I’ve lost the trail I’m scout’n.
Could you spare a cup of coffee?”

The cabin was a one-room shack
With a loft that held three cots,
A fireplace made of stone in the corner,
And the smell of coffee stirred in the pot.

She said he was the first man here
Since her husband passed a year ago.
He told her he was grateful for the hot meal,
And to sit a spell out of the blow’n snow.

The fire warmed his body
And the children made him smile.
Then he asked what day it was,
For he’d lost track across the miles.

And her reply was made with little cheer
That this was Christmas Day,
As she turned to the window to look outside
At a sky that was full of gray.

The stranger noted the sadness
As she bent her head in sorrow,
For she was just living day to day
And hoping for a better tomorrow.

He said, “Now ma’am, if this is Christmas,
It seems we shouldn’t mourn,
Cause on this day a long time ago,
Christ our Savior was born.”

“Now, I see by your face that times have been hard
And that money’s pert near tight,
But if you’ll give me half a chance,
I’ll try and shed some Christmas light.”

So he warmed their hearts with his campfire voice
Of pretty Christmas melody
And thanked them for their gifts to him
Of shelter, beans, and coffee.

And then, to the boy he gave his own knife,
It was truly a gift to give,
For the boy had never had his own,
And he could use this as long as he lived.

And for the girl he gave a silver dollar
And a tightly woven horsehair ring.
Her finger could hold some beauty for now,
And she could buy a new dress come spring.

Then to the woman he gave his Bible.
It was weather beaten from many a hard trail.
“Next time you feel down,” he said,
“Just read a few verses- the Lord never fails.”

And then again he thanked them
For letting him come inside.
And they begged him not to go,
But, even on Christmas, a cowboy’s got to ride.

from The Cowboy Gazette, December 1994