Hark the Herald Angel

Every Christmas Eve when I was little the kids in my family put on a pageant of the Christmas story from the book of James. Now, since there were only two of us this was a bit of a challenge. Alex had to be a shepherd, Joseph, and a Wise Man. I was the angel and Mary. Since there were only the two of us, our toys had to step in.

Sarah Bear and Raggedy Andy filled in as shepherds, and sometimes as Wise men. Tenderlove took on the role of baby Jesus; sometimes she joined Raggedy Ann and Annie as the choir of angels. A range of stuffed animals, including Elly the elephant played sheep. The innkeeper changed from year to year, depending on which doll was willing to take the role. Despite the abundance of actors available among my imaginary friends (personally I thought the Rainbow Girls were perfect for the choir of angels), none of them qualified as actors for this pageant according to my family. The way it was explained to me, the play didn’t make sense to anyone else if I was the only one who could see the cast.

One of my favorite roles was the angel who appeared to the shepherds. (In our family, angels were girls. I’m not really sure why.) My mom had a white lacy cape that on short little me trailed the floor. I loved it. I’d put on the cape and trip on the hem as I appeared to the shepherds, bringing tidings of great joy.

The year I was seven I got it into my head that angels must have some way of standing out against the night sky so the shepherds could see them. An angel appearing at night should glow with a bright, heavenly white light. When presented with this idea there was a brief moment where my mom gave me the look that meant she was not sure what to do with me. Then she grinned. There was actually a solution to one of my wild ideas! We had an extra string of tree lights. They were red, green, blue, and yellow rather than white but no shepherd could possibly miss such an angel.

Mom tracked down a long extension cord and we carefully wove the lights into the cape and around me. Since it was a long strand we worked out sort of a crown that sat on my little head. I was the most amazing angel that would ever be seen in the history of Christmas pageants, possibly in the history of angels. Before I appeared before the family and guests Mom plugged in the lights. It was an awesome sight! Family and guests alike were amazed by such an angel as I walked in to make the announcement to the shepherds and assorted stuffed animals. Alex as the shepherd, who had not been let in on the scheme, was truly stunned. It was perfect.

I drew myself up to say my lines. My announcement went a bit like this.

“I’m the angel. I have to tell the shepherds that Jesus was born. Sarah bear is one of the shepherds and Elly (the elephant) is a sheep, not a shepherd. Hark; I bring you, ow (twitch of the shoulders to shift the lights). Um. Hark, tidings of joy. Ow (I wriggled a hand out of the cape to lift the crown of lights off my scalp.) For, ow (I shrank into the shawl away from the lights) over in Bethlehem, ow (I poke at the cape to push it away from my skin) is born a baby. Owowowow. He’s in a manger. Ow. Go see him. Mommy get these off me!”

You know how incandescent light bulbs get hot? Well, as it turns out that applies to the tiny twinkle light variety too. They don’t get hot enough to ignite even a dried out tree, however when you’ve got them draped all over you, including touching your scalp, you start to notice the heat. If they stay on long enough to make an entrance as an angel the heat starts to be uncomfortable. By the time you’ve made the announcement, the lights hurt.

As the audience and my mother realized what I’d been saying “ow” about Mom unplugged the lights and started to take them off. We’d been pretty thorough about winding them on evenly, however, so peeling them off took a few minutes. Everywhere a tiny light bulb had rested on my skin was a little red burn. My twitching away from the hot lights had actually spread the burn marks further across my skin, here and there were streaky burns caused by the lights sliding along my skin.

The pageant went on, with Mary rubbing at red marks on her arms, in her hair, and even a couple on her cheeks. The peace of the stable was disrupted as I glared at Joseph for snickering about the mishap. Alex managed to regain his composure during the transformation to Wise Man, which was a good thing. The boxes for the gold, frankincense, and myrrh had some weight to them and could have been used quite effectively to halt his snickers.

That was the last glowing Christmas angel in our pageant.



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