“A Night in Bethlehem”

The theme for this year’s Ward Christmas Party was “A Night In Bethlehem,” and they asked us to come in costumes, if possible. There was a wide variety of bathrobe shepherds and all kinds of bathtowel turbans, and the whole evening centered around the reading and play-acting of The Nativity. It was a wonderful evening. We ate, we talked with friends, we sang Christmas hymns (the ones about Jesus — not the ones about snow), and basically had a great time while not forgetting for a moment whose holy day we were preparing for.

I got to be a tax collector. Before people could file into the gymnasium (which was VERY extensively decorated to look like a marketplace in Judea — complete with hebrew text on the signs) they had to be taxed. The tax was canned food, to be donated to the Utah Food Bank. I collected the donations, and then handed out plastic coins to be exchanged for the meal and the activities. I had a large surplus of currency which I blatantly used, in true tax-collector form, to buy some extra meal goodies for my family. There was plenty of food left at the end of the evening, and everybody got seconds or thirds, so it’s not like my obvious embezzlement caused any shortages — it was just fun to get into the character, and to always have lots of little gold-plastic coins on my person when everybody else had run out.

And role-playing or no, I wept during the Nativity. It wasn’t especially well-acted, and the singing was congregational unison rather than anything with actual harmony to it, but that’s not what makes for a good Nativity play. For me, I just have to be reminded of the gift of the Atonement, and of the miracle of forgiveness. Even a thieving, embezzling tax-collector can repent and find salvation.

Last year I ranted angrily about how the Ward had put on a “Polar Express” party for the kids, with no mention of Christ at all. I voiced my complaints quietly to the Bishop a year ago, and maybe that’s why this year’s theme was so much more in line with the true meaning of Christmas. But at the party this year I was too uplifted to bother feeling vindicated. There’s no room for an “in your face” attitude when you’re surrounded by reminders of God’s forgiveness.

As an added bonus, we came home with half a box of oranges and a dozen apples. We’re not hurting for food (I just bought 4lbs of bananas this afternoon), but the kids will really appreciate some more fresh fruit. Oh, and I let my kids raid the tax-collector’s table. We’ve got fifty or sixty of these plastic gold coins now… “tackses,” Gleek calls them, overarticulating the “X.” Ah, the currency games they’ll be playing tomorrow.

–Howard

18 thoughts on ““A Night in Bethlehem””

  1. My very first thought before even finishing reading your first sentence was, “Oh, so it sounds like his party was much better than last year’s.” 🙂

    We’ll see what ours is like. My husband is directing the elder’s quorum for some singing, which could be very interesting considering what happened a couple of weeks ago when they sang a piece in Sacrament Meeting.

  2. I understand that the true meaning of Christmas, to many people, is the mass of Christ. But, the “true” meaning of Christmas, to many, is something else. I’m pretty sure the celebration of the days getting longer started much longer than 2000 years ago.

    Although, in a church/temple, it certainly makes more sense to have a celebrations centered around Christ than one centered around winter and Santa Claus.

    1. Right, right, right. You’re talking about the true meaning of SOLSTICE, wise-guy. I’m discussing CHRISTMAS. Your holiday happens earlier, and yay, the days get longer. But that’s not the true meaning of Christmas and you know it.

      –Howard

          1. Indeed. 🙂

            Moving the celebration of Christ’s birth away from Solstice would be difficult, because the Christian community can’t agree on when he was born.

            Mormons, who have modern revelation to clear the matter up, believe that He was born on April 6th of year zero in the current era, which would have Christmas and Easter falling on the same day about 3% of the time, and close enough regardless that it would screw up the retail aspects of both holidays. Red and green with lights, or pastels? Does Santa deliver eggs?

          2. No no… the easter bunny leaves eggs on the mantel in hopes that St. Nick will bring him a Mrs. Easter Bunny down the chimney. Baby easter bunnies are known as “elves” and are made of chocolate. 😉

        1. I’ve actually joked about it from time to time, but mostly it comes down to the fact that I don’t think anyone has the right to dictate to anyone else the “true meaning” of any event. Christmas, Yuletide, Chanukah, Festivus or whatever … I’d rather just leave people alone to celebrate as they wish and the only thing I ask is that they do the same for me.

          (With that said, yes, I would expect that if a Christmas (etc) festival was being held in a church or temple it would be centered around that faith’s beliefs about the holiday. I guess I’m sort of crazy that way, huh?)

          Happy Whatever You’re Having!

      1. Well, sort of. I was just using solstice as an example. For me, the true meaning of Christmas itself has nothing to do with Christ. It has to do with happiness, and with family, and with being brotherly to your fellow man. All things that Christ would recommend, to be sure, but Christ isn’t in there.

        Didn’t mean to offend — I have nothing against it being the true meaning for you, and for everyone at your congragation. I just wanted to point out that it wasn’t universal.

        I’m sure you hear this a lot, but Schlock is the best webcomic I’ve ever seen.

  3. Congratulations

    My sister’s husband is one of ten kids (Catholic). She’s got ~40 neices and nephews. They all end up at my sister’s place on Christmas Eve. I was appalled two years ago when their Christmas Eve seemed singularly lacking in Christ (all the kids go to Catholic schools, but all the songs they were singing were, as you put it, about snow). I was further appalled by the fact that I, an agnostic, seemed to be the only person bothered by the focus of the evening.

    I tried passing on some friendly comments to my sister, and they got a little bit better last year. I’m curious as to what will happen this year.

    1. Re: Congratulations

      I know how you feel. My mother has 6 brothers and sisters, and we ALL meet up. So now about half of the grandkids are coming every year, all the nieces and nephews. so around 40-50 people all together.

      Our christmas parties seem to all go around being with family and the presents, along with some haloing with me and my near age cousins. The Family goes to church that night as its on Christmas eve every year, but once church is over, it seems christ is out the door. I think im the only non-believing of the christian ways, although i have yet to pin down what i do believe, but I havent spoken up about this fact either.

  4. If you want to be seasonal about it, get them a dredil and teach them how to play the dredil game (it’s very easy). Gold plastic “tackses” would be perfect for it!

    1. Actually, they GOT dreidels, and apparently were taught how to play. My son has half a dozen of them on the floor behind me… he’s playing a six-player round, complete with six little piles of tackses.

      When I realized that the dreidel is really just a four-sided die with a different action assigned to each face (as opposed to four sequential integers), I was tempted to grab one for my dice box. Then I could play Dreidels and Dragons.

      –Howard

      1. Oh that would be so perfect! I’m glad the kids have dreidels… it’s one of the things I shamelessly stole from my jewish friends growing up. (Not the dreidel… just the game and it’s association with the holidays!)

  5. Wasn’t there a repentant tax collector that met Jesus? Zaccheus, as I recall (I knew that Irish Catholic upbringing was good for something other than bruised knuckles and a lot of songs about despising England!), so I doubt you needed to feel too much shame for weeping during the Nativity. You’re just paving the way. *chuckles*

  6. Wow. You certainly have the ability to change the course of a day.

    I looked at your entry an hour ago, and now I have a pitcher of homemade hot chocolate I’m sharing with my family.

    Weird.

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