My sister was put in charge of directing the Christmas pageant at church this year and asked if I would help out with makeup and shooing the kings and shepherds down the aisle at the proper time. So last Friday afternoon I found myself drawing rosy cheeks on page boys (all of whom were girls) and whiskers on the hairless cheeks of 14 year old shepherds.
My family has had a long relationship with this particular pageant. All of us–including the relatively new generation of nieces and nephews–played shepherds, angels, pages and Joseph over the years, although for some reason never attaining the coveted Mary spot. I myself played an angel with loads of blue eyeshadow in about 8th grade. I had to stand with my arms up in a position of supplication for what seemed like hours. I started feeling woozy and was fortunately rescued by one of the three kings who whipped out a bottle of smelling salts from his box of myrrh.
Back in the days of yore, the shepherds had glue-on beards, which made the pageant a very attractive gig for prepubescent boys. I fear that for all of my dab-handedness with the eyeliner, today’s drawn on beards simply pale by comparison. Back then, the trick was to leave the beard on for as long as possible after the pageant ended. I remember taking my 12 year old nephew–replete with beard–to the supermarket for some last minute Christmas Eve food purchases. No one said a word.
I used to do a bit of acting once upon a time and the pageant brought to mind the high school show biz adage, ‘what can go wrong, will go wrong’ and its close associate, ‘but at the end of the day, it will all come out right in the wash.’ What happened on Friday was that the guy who was supposed to do the lighting pulled out at the last moment, one of the shepherds still hadn’t arrived 10 minutes before curtain, and–the worst of all possible worsts–someone walked off with the frankincense. But it all came out right in the wash. They found a guy who managed to get the lights sorted out, the missing shepherd showed up in the nick of time, and a member of the pageant team roared off to the local Catholic Church where he managed to borrow enough frankincense to do the pageant proud for the next 5 years. Given that ours was an Episcopalian pageant, that was pretty cool.