“The star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with great delight. On coming to the house, they saw the Child with his mother Mary, and they fell down and worshiped him”
(Matt. 2: 9-11a).
Long ago, when our children were young, we celebrated Christmas outside, “socially-distanced” before it became the thing to do. I’d had enough of kids in bath robes pretending to be wise men and shepherds wandering around a church auditorium, sucking their thumbs and staring awestruck at the congregation and sometimes crying when they realized they had become a display.
You’ll have to imagine the scene: we were renting a small frame house on a dairy farm. We had no barn but a double garage, part of which we had turned into a chicken coop. It wasn’t an inn, but neither was it a stage.
Clear, cold nights in East Delta (near Vancouver) being as rare in December as snow in Congo, we had to improvise a star. David, a friend perhaps 14 years old, agreed to help us. I found a long pole, maybe eight cubits long, and Betsey cut out a big star from a cardboard box, covered it with aluminum foil and attached it to the top of the pole. David was to wear dark clothing, carry the pole, shine a flashlight on the star, and stand in the orchard.
We got the children ready. I know they didn’t wear fake beards but maybe Liz – always dramatic – may have dressed up in some sort of robe. I remember that, upon a pretext of some sort, I looked out the back door and said, “Look, a star!” The children put on their gum boots and walked into the East Delta night. Dave kept a distance (invisible in the dark) and wandered around the orchard. From time to time he’d turn out the flashlight and we’d all look (“Where did it go? There it is”) until eventually he sneaked into the garage and leaned the true-north-pole-star (it was a Canadian Christmas, after all) against the wall. When the adults and children finally got to the garage, lo, there was a little makeshift box with hay in it and – as I remember – a Raggedy Ann doll lying there.
The chickens, disturbed from their dreams of worms and wheat, clucked a bit from their roosts; a couple flew to the ground. The rooster crowed because of the light, and – being a rooster – tried to breed a hen. I don’t remember if any of us bowed down to worship, nor if we offered Ann any gifts. I know we did go into the house for hot chocolate. We invited Dave to join us.
Secret agents of Christ
The children seemed to have no trouble taking the story seriously. In fact, these are the same children who saw the tooth fairy flying over the orchard to bring them a quarter for a lost tooth. And they saw a gnome in the pumpkin patch. Years later, when a Christian school teacher told Becca that gnomes were “just pretend,” she was not impressed. Another one of our kids once told another student who asked what she wanted from Santa, “Well, my dad says Santa Claus is bullsh*t.”
All the children still confess the Christ-child (and the reality of gnomes?) and they also participate, biting their tongues, in the cult of Santa Claus as secret agents of a Child now King.
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