Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Why does the Virgin Mary wear blue?

I am not a deeply religious person… but then again, I’m not shallowly religious either. However I do love a good Nativity. Whether you believe The Gospel as gospel or whether you believe all modern religions are piggybacking on the moment man wondered about tomorrow and thought that a bit of worship couldn’t go amiss, there is something tangibly good about seeing those innocent faces wobbling through their performance. True, they are mostly picking their nose and, if lucky, wiping it on the tea towel headdress, but if the hopes and fears of all the years meet anywhere… it’s there.

This was No.1 daughter’s second Nativity; No.2 has yet to tread the boards, or aisle. Last year No.1 was cast as a little star. We arrived at a politically stable time, not too early, not too late, to find the church packed. Squeezing in at the back we watched our little star walk down to her place by the Holy Family and stand on a chair, shining with the others. We could just see her head. And then we couldn’t – but we heard the thump as she turned into a falling star and hit the deck. Picked up, dusted off and replaced, she kept smiling – that’s my girl.

This year she progressed to an Angel. And I progressed to throwing arrival politics out of the window. When we got there, there were only six other people in the church. Having secured a clear camera shot from the second row, we settled in for the long wait.

Which gave me time to ruminate on the other aspects of Nativity politics. It begins with the casting – A dear friend also has two daughters. One has been cast as Mary, the other as the Innkeeper’s Wife. Which caused some tears. The Innkeepers Wife only heard ‘Innkeeper’ and was not best pleased at being cast as a man. After inquiries, order was restored. Keeping Mary in order would also have proved a challenge. Theirs is a large school. Necessitating in each class doing their own Nativity – that’s a lot of Marys to wrangle – “Could all the Marys stand by their own Joseph, Right! Have you got your Jesuses – Well where did you leave him. ?…OK Off we go … Stay together.”

Being in the sticks, No. 1’s school is quite small. Older kids do the readings; the younger ones get the costumes. With so few to control, they can afford a real Jesus. The tiny headline act arrived to ‘ahs’ and he and Mum took their place at the front.

In her welcoming remarks, the Headmistress apologised for the tardy start – they had been waiting for Jesus to arrive, he was late. For a moment I thought he had been couriered from the maternity ward before I realised she was talking about the traffic.

Jesus wasn’t last though. Frazzled parents had screamed in late, marched down to the front, looked at the reserved signs on the front pews and then ask who they were reserved for – er… not you. With a full house, one late arrival told the row in front that as the person they were saving the aisle seat for wasn’t there, she wanted to take it.
‘Sorry, she’ll be here in a minute, she’s helping the kids.’
‘Well could you all budge up?’
‘Er, yes, can you squeeze past?’
‘No… I want the aisle seat.’… A refusal often offends.

No doubt, like me, she had wanted a clear shot. Photography is also fraught with politics. Is it allowed? What are the current rules? Am I infringing on their human rights? Flash or no Flash? Do I lift the camera for a better angle, thus impeding the view for those behind? … I needn’t have been so perturbed. As the performance kicked off, paps on the red carpet couldn’t have created more of a barrage of flashes. One granddad kept standing up every time his sprog twitched to get that perfect picture. At one point he was upright during an entire reading – now there’s commitment.

Jesus had got peckish while Mary and Joseph were travelling to Bethlehem but luckily was burping by the time they reached the stable and so was ready for his big moment in the crib. Unfortunately his divinity didn’t stretch to working out how to keep his dummy in. It lay tantalisingly close to his cheek. As his cries grew louder, Joseph was persuaded to stop looking like the holy infant was about to explode and retrieve it for him. Joseph did sterling work; Mary regarded the baby as somebody else’s problem. In fairness, she had a point. Or perhaps she had postnatal depression – it would finally explain the colour of the robe.

As we all stood and sang ‘Away in a Manger’ and ‘Hark the Herald’, I looked at the little faces suffused with joy, and couldn’t stop grinning myself. You know, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas – and when it comes to the politics… I couldn’t give a Figgy Pudding!

Good will to all.

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