Cottrel: Live Nativity play brings back the joys of the season

Perhaps it was singing “Joy to the World” or the way the sunlight illuminated the stained glass window above the nativity scene, or the lighting of the Advent candle. I don’t know for sure but whatever it was, I was vulnerable.

When I saw the storage boxes full of costumes in the church basement and learned that there was an already full-sized stable stored in a neighboring barn, I volunteered.

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It’s official. I’ll be in charge of the Living Nativity at our church next December.

You may call me crazy but I have done this before against overwhelming odds.

And therein lies a tale.

Christmas in Hawaii is lovely in many ways but it just doesn’t seem like Christmas. I was trying to convince our daughters that Christmas doesn’t have to have snow. In fact, I said, the first Christmas had palm trees just like we do in Hawaii. To prove it, I got this wild idea that our base housing area needed a Living Nativity play.

What was I thinking?

After getting permission from the base chapel, we set a date and started putting it all together. Plans were drawn up for a simple wooden stable. We sorted through the costumes at the chapel and realized some sewing and borrowing needed to be done. There were no sheep on the island so I contacted a local farmer to get some goats from him for that weekend. The plan was coming together.

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The excitement was building, the parts were cast, publicity was out, and then I got a phone call. My mom was having heart surgery in Ohio more than 4,500 miles and a total of 12 hours in the air away. On top of that, it was the day before Thanksgiving and every seat on every airplane had been full for a week.

Somehow the Red Cross found a seat for me.

I got home in time to give mom moral support, then a week later I headed back to Hawaii. After learning that the preparations hadn’t progressed on the program while I was gone and the performance was only 10 days away, I made the tough decision to cancel. I concluded that sometimes the best of intentions go awry.

During the long flight home, I tried to figure out how to get the word out. But God had other plans.

My phone started ringing as soon as I got back. The base stable had extra bales of straw, could they drop some by? The Catholic Church in Ewa Beach heard of our problems and offered all their costumes, including beards for the shepherds. Their nativity play was scheduled the week before ours and they wouldn’t need them for awhile.

The play was miraculously coming together.

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We needed a script, but one of the chaplains suggested we simply read the scripture and play appropriate carols on a sound system. We recorded it all on a “state-of-the-art” cassette tape. It was perfect.

Then things got a little challenging again.

On the morning of the performance, I went to the farmer to pick up the goats and found out that he had had them butchered for me to pick up. As a silly Mainlander, I had forgotten that lots of island residents like to roast goat for holiday gatherings. Oh no.

Luckily someone else was interested in buying the meat and I looked for more live goats with no success. Obviously there were lots of BBQs that weekend on our end of the island.

To the rescue came a Navy wife with two adorable fuzzy white toy poodles. In the arms of the shepherds, and in the dark, the poodles could pass for sheep.

The base stable offered us one billy goat and a horse to round out the stable animals. Since the only cows on the island were visibly wrong black-and-white Holsteins and inaccessible on the north end of the island anyway, this was the best we could do.

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As the sun set and the full moon rose, a crowd of more than 300 people gathered on the lawn of the child care center sitting on lawn chairs and blankets. The size of the crowd amazed us. It was 75 degrees and the row of palm trees behind the stable were a perfect back drop.

As the performance began, Mary and Joseph arrived on foot and settled into the stable. Teen-aged shepherds were gathered around a fire (a lantern under orange tissue and a pile of branches), which they had to move away from the animals. It seems that the billy goat was in attack mode. That beast had a wide set of horns and a territorial attitude.

When the dancing bare-footed angels dressed in white approached, they had to walk a wide arc around the billy goat to get to the shepherds. The billy goat kept bouncing off the end of his tether with his horns down as he tried to butt them.

At this point the horse got spooked by the billy goat and lost its patience. I remember seeing the horse handler’s feet kicking in the air as the horse reared up. Away the horse went back into its trailer. The crowd took this all in stride. After all, who wouldn’t believe that angels could be scary to animals?

I sighed with relief. Problem solved.

That was when all the elementary-aged angels froze in the middle of the grassy lawn and started to scream and cry.

Uh oh.

The shepherds came to the rescue and discovered that the bare-footed angels had walked into a nasty patch of sand spurs. The teen-aged shepherds transported the angels off to a sand-spur free area away from the goat and the play continued. Then the shepherds carried the angels on their backs to the stable, going the long way again to avoid the goat.

I must admit this was indeed a sight to behold.

The visit to the stable went smoothly as “Away in the Manger” played. Baby Jesus was adorably played by a real baby. It was 75 degrees after all. The wise men, played by three squadron commanders, arrived and presented their gifts. It was a Kodak moment for all.

Then the shepherds departed, the long way of course to avoid the billy goat. After conferring with the angels, Mary and Joseph lent their flip flops to the two biggest angels who carried the other smaller angels on their backs to get across the sand-spur filled lawn. Crisis averted because, of course, Mary and Joseph and the baby needed to depart in a different direction to Egypt, which was, as luck would have it, in the direction of a sidewalk.

The Iroquois Point Housing Nativity Play was a huge success and we put it on for two more years until we transferred out.

The last year we put on the play, my hubby and I got to play Mary and Joseph with our 2-week-old baby Erin as Baby Jesus. Awwww. She got hungry and restless, but I wasn’t about to nurse her in front of 300 people, so poor baby Jesus cried, and the audience loved it being so realistic. No dolls here folks.

Years later when we moved to Enon, we had to make some adjustments to put on the Nativity play in winter. It was way too cold for Mary and Joseph to sit still for long without stadium seat heaters. It seemed odd to have snow and no palm trees. The angels and shepherds were all “well-rounded” with heavy coats under their robes and halos attached to white stocking caps. Sand spurs weren’t an issue for angels wearing boots. We had real sheep, which were a joy, and a donkey, which was difficult as donkeys are.

So I’m ambitiously looking forward to getting another Living Nativity play together next December, hopefully before the first snow, you know, during that last warm spell. I’m curious to see what challenges we will face as we put it together, but I am positive it’ll all work out as it has in the past. After all, finding live sheep, a donkey and a proper cow should be easy around here.

And I have 365 days to locate camels. Wish me luck.

Merry Christmas!

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