By David McGovern
THERE is nothing inherently “newsworthy” in a school nativity play – unless, of course, you are the parent, grandparent or invited family friend of a child performing in said play; in that case, no headline, caption or news story is bold enough, detailed enough or long enough to highlight that child’s contribution.
Recently, I had the privilege of attending a play performed by the Year 1 students of Sacred Heart Primary School at Clear Island Waters. The daughter of my wife’s best friend had been given the role of Mary.
With Celena being unable to attend, due to a period of hospitalisation, I happily stepped up to serve as “Uncle David”.
This is what I learned during the various depictions of the Nativity story.
- Liturgical movements have not changed over the generations. Even with the popularity of various contemporary dance forms, spiritual songs presented in a school or church setting are often accompanied by the same sort of actions that I grew up with in Antioch: intermittent clapping, pointing fingers, waving hands. Oh, and the occasional stamping of feet. (But definitely no Gangam Style)
- It is a little known theological “fact” that while angels might have wings, they also use their hands to flap. I learned this as I watched flocks of angels make their way across the floor of the assembly area – wings on their backs, hands moving quickly up and dow.
- Year 1 boys are notoriously clean shaven. In order to “create” a man charged with being the earthly father of Our Lord, one young lad had what looked like shoe polish applied to his face. An obviously hard-working “shepherd” had a voluminous beard that seemed to belie the rest of his youthful features.
- Pyjamas make for great nativity outfits. Not that I would claim to be up with the fashion of today’s younger generation (some would question whether I am up to date with the fashion of any generation … but I digress), but it seems that a number of the popular, one-piece pyjama sets (also known as “onesies”) were adapted as costumes for some of the “animals” in the stable. At last count, the homes of Surfers Paradise were at risk of being inundated by cows, pigs and even a tiger.
But the most important thing I learned from the music, dramatic retelling and sheer enthusiasm of both performers and audience was this – the Nativity scene is a timeless tale because it is full of contrast.
In the simplicity of the straw and the false beards and the towels wrapped around a head, we also recognise some deep, fundamental truths. They included:
- Life is precious and life can be hard (I mean, a mother gives birth in a stable, for crying out loud), but life also is full of promise (the shepherds and wise men clearly saw the potential of this child lying before them);
- The soft straw hides the fact that “Mary” and “Joseph” have to place their “baby” in a wooden cradle – how could they know that, one day, that precious child would grow to be a man who would be nailed to a wooden cross? Does any parent know the fate that could befall their children? Would it change our decisions to have them if we did? The Nativity scene reminds us that there are no guarantees, for any of us, including our offspring.
- As the doll representing Jesus is wrapped in a blanket, we see a foreshadowing of how he would, as an adult, be wrapped in a shroud and placed in a tomb;
- Finally, in the sheer exuberance of children play-acting and singing and dancing and reciting, we are reminded of our own yearning for a less complicated life. We come to witness a Nativity scene, not because it is our son, daughter, niece or grandson performing, but because we need what it offers: simplicity and a sense of wonder.
David McGovern is director of Catholic Mission in Brisbane archdiocese.