Copyright is held by the author.
THERE WAS a snowstorm on Christmas Eve, and an argument in our house. By the time we finished dinner and Mom settled the younger kids with Grandma, everyone was upset. When she drove me into the crowded church parking lot, we were late. It was almost time for the pageant and my special role as the Little Christmas Angel.
The Sunday School teacher had shown beautiful pictures of the Nativity by famous artists, so everyone understood exactly how the scene and characters should look. Mary would wear a blue dress and a white mantle and a peaceful expression. She’d wrap the naked Baby Jesus in a white cloth. A bright spotlight would shine on them. We’d rehearsed for weeks after Sunday School.
My grandmother had made me a beautiful angel costume with a long silver gown, gauzy wings and a gold tinsel halo. I’d visualized standing on the raised platform in centre stage behind the Holy Family and singing Angels We Have Heard On High. I’d practiced spreading my wings and gently flapping them to cool the baby’s face.
I thought God would probably watch from a mysterious place above the overhead spotlights and smile. God would see that I was serious about my responsibilities. In my six years on Earth, this would be the most thrilling thing that ever happened.
When I arrived in the church basement where everyone assembled to go onstage, chaos reigned. My gown was gone! Frantically, I tugged on the Choir Director’s robe and fearfully asked where it was.
She told me a sad truth. Because I was late, they’d re-assigned my costume and role. There was no place left for me. I could sit in the audience with my mother and watch — or go home. It took a moment to comprehend this. My jaw dropped, knees buckled and I dropped to the floor.
Ruined! Christmas Eve was ruined — I was supposed to be an angel! Tears spilled down my face as I sat cross-legged on the cold tiles.
A kindly teacher offered me an old red bathrobe and a mop handle. She said I could be a shepherd and stand in the background. I reluctantly accepted and tied a rope around my waist to hitch up the oversized gown. It smelled like cigarettes. The angels fluttered their wings and adjusted their halos for the stage while I watched, stomach twisting with envy. As the pageant began, everyone forgot about me.
From behind the red velvet curtains, I watched the entire cast assemble before the packed audience. Ooh! Ahh! A polite round of applause broke out as they took their places. It was time to make a grand entrance.
I had no lines or directions to follow and wandered onto the stage in an improvised solo performance. Strolling about, I pretended to search for something — sheep, perhaps?
“Baaaaah baaaaah . . . here, sheep, sheep, sheep.” Feigning concern, I checked my Mickey-Mouse watch. Did the old time shepherds wear watches? When I heard a few giggles from the front row, it occurred to me I’d made a mistake.
The back of the stage was crowded, and it was impossible to find a place to stand. The Wise Men, in their fancy crowns and long capes, elbowed me out of the way. Two boys disguised as a brown cow tried to kick me. I tripped over my drooping robe and had to roll up my floppy sleeves. The angel who had replaced me sneered and said, “Get lost, kid.”
There was a clearing in the middle of the stage. Heart pounding, I walked up to the Holy family and knelt down on a bundle of straw beside the manger.
Our Mary was a young mother who’d risked the bad weather to bring the beautiful newborn child to church. Lying on a soft white blanket in the little wooden bed, the baby whimpered, pink mouth twisting for her breast. She removed the wrappings and lifted him to her lap. Oblivious to his solemn responsibilities, the baby gurgled and waved a chubby hand. I reached out and touched a wee warm finger. The babe smiled.
Attracted to a glowing light in the middle of the auditorium, I peered into the darkness. It was my mother’s face, shining like a star, attentive to my every move on stage.
Afterwards, the teacher chastised me for “stealing the show.” Whatever that meant. She didn’t return my angel costume.
On the slow, snowy car ride home, Mother tried to console me. “Those angels seemed awfully hot and cranky up there. I could see them scratching and they sang out of tune. It’s a good thing you weren’t one of them.”
After a moment, I said, “It turned out better.”
As the wind blew drifts of snow across our path, the world outside the car disappeared. Face tight with worry, Mother hunched forward over the steering wheel, straining to see the dimly lit road ahead.
Beneath their burden of snow, the twinkling red and green lights strung on our trees welcomed us when we pulled into our driveway. We were home and I reached for her hand.