Does your Christmas Eve meal include oysters or bowls of clam chowder? Many families have a staple that traditionally must be part of their supper. We can't remember what we served when our children were all at home. They were always so eager for the evening to begin that they would have been satisfied with pancakes. No matter what we put on the table, it was eaten in a hurry. They couldn't wait to go put on their costumes and get the living room ready for their annual skit or play.
The plays were written by me in the early days but when Ann Marie, our firstborn and only girl for many years was in grade school she took over with some help from me. The theme was the same every year, centering on the birth of the Child Jesus. All of the children were involved. Big sister had one problem for several years. Who would play Mary when she only had brothers to work with? She couldn't be in the play herself because her brothers needed all the help she gave them as producer and director. I am not sure how she did it, but when she needed a Mary, one of them would show up with a light blue pillow-case-veil carrying a doll swaddled in white flannel. I assume there was some sort of bribery involved. Years later, one of the comments after the birth of their little sister during Christmas week was, "Now we have a Mary for our plays."
One year Baby Jesus was 8-month-old Brian. He was probably the only Baby Jesus who babbled constantly and crawled out of his crib minutes after he was supposed to have been born. We didn't have a younger baby to play the part because by the time we started having annual plays the birthdays closest to Christmas were too close - one on the 23rd and another on the 26th. Shelly celebrated her 1st birthday the day before she performed in her first skit. She was an adorable curly-haired angel dancing across the sofa shaking a plastic box holding a few marbles. She was helping the Little Drummer Boy, who was the star, play his kind of music for the Babe in the manger. A sprig of sliver tinsel in her hair served as a halo and was all the costume she needed.
The year Shelly was 3 she came into the room riding on the back of a donkey on the way to Bethlehem. The donkey was her teenaged brother Glenn who wore a head band with two of dad's black socks hanging down from it serving as ears. He tripped frequently on his long ears because as part of the story he was considered ugly in Nazareth due to those out-of-proportion ears. Joseph chose him to carry his pregnant wife on the journey because even though that little donkey was treated as an outcast by his donkey counterparts, he was the most humble and gentle of all the animals.
There were always volunteers willing to be shepherds. They wore housecoats and burlap headgear and lounged on carpeted floors while awaiting the appearance of an angel to bring them the news of the Babe born in a stable. One year one of the boys turned his sheepskin- lined winter coat inside out and held it all bunched up in his arms. It did sort of look like he was carrying a lamb.
Ann didn't get as much cooperation from brothers Rick and Dean when they got to be in 7th and 8th grades until she began letting them contribute more to the ideas for the play. They wrote themselves out of the acting parts. The four younger siblings got parts and the rebels took assignments such as holding a trouble-light brought in from dad's shop to spotlight the action, helping with costumes and props or reading the story while the others acted it out.
The children took their performances very seriously. Brian was about 5 when he wandered off during our early afternoon visit to his grandparents. He went across the street to their pastor's home to say hi. We were a couple of miles down the road headed for home when we realized he was not with us. Father Ries told us later how relieved Brian was when we came back to get him. He said the little guy wasn't worried about getting home for Santa's visit. Instead he was saying, "I have to get home to practice for the play."
We may not remember what we ate on those long ago Christmas Eves with our young family but we have many other memories to cherish