It is the night of the school Christmas Pageant.
Every class has practiced and practiced their carols. They have dutifully walked onstage and sung them. They have all sung pretty well really, even if occasionally they have sung with a little more gusto than the teachers had expected. Having the audience join in sometimes has that effect, and really it did add to the overall enjoyment.
Then there was the tea break. Thick white cups, those big urns steaming away in the summer evening. Jugs of milk, beaded with perspiration, the sugar bowls that predictably lose their spoons in the first 5 minutes. Children sneaking up to the tables and stealing a second biscuit, or a slice of cake. The mother’s association chairwoman looking at the empty plates and vowing next time she would have the eats on a table supervised by someone who could make the little monsters behave.
Now the play.
A story known so well to all. The young couple arriving at the inn, where there is no room for them. The rather pretty girl pretending so well to swoon. Rather flat for a pregnant woman, but then her mother had refused to tie on the cushion as Mrs Flanders had requested.
The kindly innkeeper, beard looking well scratched as the youngster is allergic to the theatrical glue, showing them off into the wings, pronouncing loudly “I do have some space in the stable, if that would suit you”.
Press the switch and the curtains close. The three wise men sedately pacing along in front of the curtain, carrying their gifts in a way sure to get them mugged in any modern city, if their arms didn’t collapse from fatigue first.
A rush of people onstage, some removing the wall that is the inn entrance. Others carrying in the one-dimensional cows and sheep. Two more with bales of hay. Another carrying the manger, and putting it down with an exclamation that possibly carried out through the curtain. Then sucking at the finger with the splinter he hurries offstage.
Mrs Flanders rushing onstage and putting the baby in the crib.
Meanwhile the children file onstage, Mary relieved of her thick outer cloak, Joseph twitching at his scraggly little beard, dramatically flings the cloak over one of the bales. They sit on the bale, just in time for the curtain is opening. Mary leans forward and places the baby in the crib. Her face freezes in surprise.
Mrs Flanders in the wings hisses at her “Smile at your baby”.
As the choir in the wings softly begins to sing “Away in a manger” the young Mary beams down at the crib. Joseph puts a sticky hand on her shoulder, and looks somewhat baffled, as though all this baby stuff is beyond him.
At first no-one notices, then the rather ambitious “Mary’s mother” gasps and nudges her husband, upsetting his aim with the camera. Now a few others have noticed. Little gasps, murmuring, giggles.
The shepherds file in as the choir sings “While shepherds watched their flocks”. They shuffle about, smiling rather more than Mrs Flanders remembers from rehearsals.
It is only when the 3 Kings, again bearing their gifts with arms aloft and exhausted, welcomed by the choir singing “Silent Night” that Mrs Flanders, anxiously watching King number 2 who is only allowed to be such because his father is chairman of the PTA, realises the boys shoulders are shaking, rushes to the wing at the front of the stage.
Here in the crib is the proof that the ancient story can have a new twist. Mary has apparently produced twins, rather unexpectedly.