The manger was made of cardboard. It was stuffed with fresh hay. Genuine hay from the hardware store. The Christchild was a naked Cabbage Patch doll from Brianna Smith’s personal collection. Orange yarn for hair. Jesus was a redhead.

Joseph was a tall kid with a long neck. You could see his blue jeans poking beneath the hem of his brown robe.

The shepherds were perpetually giggling about something. Nobody knew what about. But then, it was best just to let them go. It was fruitless for Miss Rhonda to tell them not to laugh. Whenever you tell kids not to laugh, they laugh so hard they pee themselves.

There were fruits and vegetables present at the birth of Christ that year, too. The vegetable costumes were leftovers from VBS. The cucumbers and tomatoes and summer squashes all knelt to offer their genuflection.

The angels were few. Dressed in white robes. Wings made of coat hangers and muslin. Three of them were brothers, and they were anything but haloed children. The eldest had gotten into a fight on the playground over a GI Joe and knocked out a kid’s front teeth.

The wisemen were dressed in gold lame and purple velvet. They wore paper crowns on their heads, courtesy of the local Burger King. They came bearing gifts.

One of the magi carried an antique box from his mother’s house. Another of the magi carried a porcelain vase that belonged to his grandmother. The third wiseman carried a cornflower blue Corningware dish because his mother misunderstood the instructions.

Thus, that particular year, Jesus received gold, frankincense, and casserole.

We in the choir were dressed in white robes. Although we weren’t angels. Miss Rhonda made this clear whenever she addressed us. We were Heavenly Hosts. Whatever that was. Our job was, however, very important. We were to sing “Gloria! An exchange is dou-ble!”

But the star of the show that year was Mary.

Mary. The Mother of Our Lord wore a blue gown, white veil, and scuffed Chuck Taylors. There were holes in her ragged canvas shoes so that her bare toes were showing. Her fingernails were dirty. Her hair was slightly greasy. And she usually smelled like a laundry bag.

Nobody could believe Miss Rhonda gave her the part of Mary. All the girls fought vehemently for the prized role. This girl was an outsider. How did this happen?

Oh, but she took her role seriously. Almost too seriously. When she walked down the aisle, carrying the babe in her arms, she held the infant like it was fourteen karat.

Mary entered the room at a dirge pace. The livestock followed her. First the donkey. Then the sheep. Followed by the carrots.

All eyes were upon Mary. The stare of every parent, sibling, and parishioner rested on her shoulders.

Mary. Who lived in the trailer park. Whose father was convicted of a few crimes. Mary. Whose mother gave her own daughter up to live with an aunt because of domestic abuse.

Mary. The girl in school who always asked if you were finished with your lunch before you were finished. The skinny girl. The one who kept to herself. Who rarely smiled.

But she was smiling today. She placed the baby in the manger. And when she said her lines, you could have heard a casserole dish drop:

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

“And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

“‘And this [shall be] a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].

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