Our neighborhood nativity started innocently enough 18 years ago. My friend Linda Harvey suggested it on the way home from a trip to Callaway in Lights.
“Why don’t we have a neighborhood nativity this year?” she asked.
As someone who is always looking for something exciting to do, I chimed in immediately. “Great,” I said, “Let’s do it.”
That year we created a very simple nativity in the yard next door so the Pontoon Christmas Paraders would be surprised by a living nativity. Ashley Cleghorn Carter was the first Mary, the guys in the neighborhood were shepherds and the Duane Hooper family were the Wise Men. The most memorable characters, however, were little angels decked in wings, halos, and crinoline skirts. Bart Smith and friends made a manger and a 5-foot star. Neighbors were delighted and a tradition was born.
Since then our nativity has taken on a life of its own. After the first year, the adults bowed out and children took over. Costumes evolved, music and narrative was added, and the set was expanded. First we added sheep – homemade out of stuffed pillow cases. But the real icing on the cake was the 8-foot camel. It was Sanae Kiejko’s idea and she drew the outline on two 8-foot sheets of plywood. Next she added a velvet blanket, jewels and braid. The camel folds in half on hinges and when it is open wide, it’s nothing less than spectacular!
Sometimes the nativity goes off without a hitch. But more often than not, spectators get a real kick out of the kids’ antics. The first time we were surprised was when Levi and Zeke Garrett and Brent Worsham were the wise men. Lindsey Haack was a very serious and spiritual Mary and brought along a doll to place in the manger. As the Wise Men approached the manger a commotion erupted. I watched from the sideline long enough to know that intervention was necessary. The show temporarily stopped as I approached the manger to get to the bottom of the chaos. The boys decided that the baby was not anatomically correct and wanted to remedy the problem with a stick. Lindsey was none-too-happy with their solution. A quick trip to the manger, a stern grandmotherly word, and all was resolved. From then on, the culprits were known as the Three Wise Guys.
When I shared this story at Bowdon Methodist Church, Nelva Roop told me that she was often all-in-a-tizzy about her kindergarten performances. Husband David had these reassuring words, “As long as children are in the program, it will be entertaining – no matter what.” And he is right. Just ask Judy Rowell.
Judy’s daughter and son-in-law, Julie and Derrick Steed, were home from Japan several years ago for Christmas and took 2-year-old Mattie to the nativity. To add even more meaning to the experience the manger was a real manger from Mattie’s four times-over great-grandparents’ (Mariah and Arch Smith) farm.
At the annual nativity, the tiniest of children were dressed as animals and positioned on the pulpit behind the older children who had speaking roles. As hometown folks do, everyone insisted that Mattie join the manger animals although she had not been to practice and was not decked out as an animal. While the older children very seriously recited their lines down front, unknowing to them a disturbance erupted at the manger. Mattie decided she wanted to hold Baby Jesus and removed him from the manger. Gladys Reese, only a few months older and dressed as a Holstein Cow, was not going to have any of that. While the congregation looked on and the very solemn older children told the Christmas story, Mattie and Gladys got into a tug-of-war over Baby Jesus. That nativity remains the most interesting and humorous of Bowdon Methodist’s history.
This year the kids at our Neighborhood Nativity were better behaved than most. The Wise Men very reverently placed their gifts at the manger, the star lit the night sky, and the angels were as adorable as ever. Pride abounded and eyes glistened as the community came together to sing and celebrate Christmas.
Candles were extinguished, the camel was folded, sheep were stored in bags and the costumes were put away for next year.
As the nativity ended, I was reminded how fragile and fleeting life is. I was reminded that the job of children is simply to be children. And I couldn’t help but wish the families and children in Newtown, Conn., knew they were remembered under the starry night at Fairfield. Most of all, I’m reminded that as long as there are children reenacting the nativity – missteps and all — there is hope in the world.
Garrett, a Carrollton resident, writes a weekly column for the Times-Georgian. firstname.lastname@example.org