There’s a cow in the garage. It’s sandwiched between the lawn mower and a man in a red coat. The man is not Santa but my husband. He’s packing away the wise men’s gifts, giving them a cursory polish, so they can be regifted, another time. We put them away with care. Christmas will come again.
I was king for a day. Well, an evening. OK, three hours. But it was enough . I’ve never had such a prominent part in a nativity. As a child, I was too tall with sticky out teeth and an awkward manner (not much has changed, actually!) so I was usually part of the chorus or stuck behind pillars or something. It never particularly bothered me except it would have been nice to have been chosen, noticed by the teacher, “You’d make a great…sheep, Deborah!” That would have been enough.
Anyway I got to be king although I was called a wise person, since wise men and kings are generally interchangeable. There were two other kings with a reserve king for drinks and toilet breaks (in that order, as all three of us star seekers were in our, er, middling years.) My church worked with another church to put on this ‘Meet the Nativity’. It was a genius idea, where all five schools in the town were given leaflets depicting the nativity characters. They brought them to Late Night shopping where they met the different characters and collected stamps for asking certain questions. At the end, with a full set of stamps, they received Christmas Story booklets and chocolate coins. These were my favourite bits, before and during: –
- Joseph in the stable on his i-pad
- My husband in a turban
- The round eyes of the children when they entered the stable
- Me: (pointing to the treasure chest of chocolate coins) Would you like to share some of Jesus’s presents? Child: Nods so hard his Santa hat falls off
- Chatting with Reserve Mary in the kitchen about her GCSEs, both in full costume
- Glimpsing the long queue of people waiting at the inn
- Me: (doing a full body sweep of my robes) Who am I? Child: (smiling) Mrs Jenkins! Me: Well, yes, that’s my day job. But who am I tonight? Teenager, cackling with his mates: Donald Trump?
But my favourite part, the very best bit of all was when I explained to two brothers that we’d travelled across deserts and over mountains to find the baby. I asked them if they’d seen him. They nodded. “What was he like?” I asked.
“Asleep,” came the reply. I said that most babies sleep a lot . I was about to go into the whole Would you like to share some of his presents? routine when the little one interrupted.
“Have you seen him?” he asked.
I hesitated. This child thought I really was a wise person, a king, a traveller. I didn’t know how to reply. So I made some inane comment and tipped some gold coins into his hand.
But later, on the way home, in a darkened alley lit by a single lamp, I thought about it. I thought about my 83 year old mum visiting my childhood friend when she was dying. I thought of a friend from church who spent days designing and making the stable animals, I thought of all the people who gave up time to put together the stable scene, gather the props, paint the set. So we could make the Christmas story come alive for the children of our town. I thought of another friend who knows she’s near the end but texted me her delight at her free Christmas tree. I put up the streamers my dad gave me last year and remembered his smile. These things are my gold, frankincense and myrrh this Christmas. I will polish them, memories to put away with care, to be regifted another time. In the manner of the wise person, the king, the traveller the child thought I was.
Have you seen him? To that upturned face, the curious eyes, round and blue and bright as buttons, this is what I should have said: –
“Yes, I have.”