Magic of nativity shows: trepidation, tears, comedy and embarrassment

Jen Hogan: I spend most of December away in a manger

“Nativity plays are a pleasure and an experience that, depending on the child, can put the heart across me!” Photograph: iStock

“Nativity plays are a pleasure and an experience that, depending on the child, can put the heart across me!” Photograph: iStock

 

I am seasoned pro when it comes to nativity shows and carol concerts – attendance wise at least. Every year, my diary is filled to the brim with performances to attend and every year my hubby reminds me his annual leave can only stretch so far and so he’ll have to be selective about the ones he can make.

He never misses the junior infant shows, considering them to be one of the highlights of Christmas, but the Montessori ones are usually a pleasure reserved just for me.

Well a pleasure and an experience that, depending on the child, can put the heart across me! Because my children love the stage, any stage, and that includes the altar during one of my sons’ special Confirmation Mass last week. “He who takes his eyes off his children, however briefly, shall possibly find them with his ears when the missing child announces what was in his Advent calendar that morning over the church tannoy system.” (Parenthood: 3:12)

But surprise has always been part of the magic – even if it is sometimes accompanied by trepidation. There have been times over the course of our Christmas show attendances when I underestimated the significance of a child’s part in a play and how watching one proudly assume her role as chief angel would unexpectedly lead to me shedding tears that desperately needed to be shed.

There have also been times during a Montessori show when an easily distracted magpie-like four-year-old decided he’d had enough of being wise, got off his camel, and proceeded to climb the adjoining bookcase in search of an out-of-reach shiny toy at the top. His actions might have escaped unnoticed had the cow and shepherd number one not decided that this looked great craic altogether and so laid down their crook and udders and opted to join him.

On another occasion, the pieces of the “yellow brick road” held up by the children as they sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow to the newly born Baby Jesus proved too much temptation and the suddenly less-than-angelic angels who stood around the manger figured a makeshift yellow paper snowball fight was in order. Those are the occasions when parents either breathe a sigh of relief that their children are not involved or else wonder how many people in the room can actually match the child to the mother or father.

“Never work with children or animals, it’s said” – I reckon Montessori and infant teachers can probably lay testament to this more than any other profession, especially during the festive season.

Unencumbered by nerves

The year of firsts and lasts continues and both my sixth-class son and sixth-year daughter are particularly aware of the significance of their carol services this year. The nativity novices, meanwhile, are unencumbered by nerves or emotion and preparation for their respective shows has been intense. Dulcet (and not so dulcet) tones have been heard wafting across our hallway – and down the stairs and from the kitchen, dining room and sitting room over the last number of weeks.

My eager beavers have scrupulously learned their lines and I have been treated to rendition after rendition of the carols I can expect to hear. Energetic actions have been thrown in for good measure and experience has me hoping the teachers have afforded such enthusiastic performers sufficient personal stage space.

The repertoire for some this year has made me wonder if the frequently attributed von Trapp comparison might not be that far from the mark – particularly when my ever-enthusiastic three-year-old innkeeper sings at me with such conviction about “me a name that is my other name” and “fa is a very, very long way away”.

Over the years I’ve regularly cursed my lack of creativity when it has come to costume fabrication. This has been especially true those years that my children have played lesser-known roles from the nativity scene – such as a penguin – but this year I’m off the hook and an elf costume is about as exotic (or polar) as it gets. Even I can manage to buy elf ears.

So, onwards we go into the emotional and familiar playground of Christmas shows – experienced, rookie and contemporary style. Scripts and lines are known by heart and December mornings and evenings will be filled with seasonal, glorious renditions of Oh Holy Night, Ring Christmas Bells and Silent Night across the many performances – oh, and an elf singing “I’ll be riding shotgun”!

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