Monday, December 21, 2009

"Away in the Manger"

One of my favorite things in the Christmas season is watching the children in our village church in their annual program. We barely arrived by the 2 p.m. time, but as it turned out, there was room on the back row for us to sit with our 92-year-old friend and neighbor Chester Turner.

Kim Barger has been kind enough to take the lead for several years now to see that we have a program. Before the coal mines shut down and we had a much larger church family, we sometimes had quite elaborate plays and/or musicals. Kim lead in some of those. However, in recent years with fewer children, we have had to simplify. Also we have tried to meet families’ needs. Some are having family gatherings today and could not participate. Some children can’t come to many practices or perhaps any of them. Kim wants them to be welcome to participate if they want to, and so she welcomes them to sing along with or without attending practices.

Today after a humorous reading by a senior citizen, who calls herself “Granny,” our teens preceded the little children’s participation. We heard Cody Barger, who has a beautiful voice, sing “Mary Did You Know?” and later read the scripture with an equally good reading voice. Katie Cutsinger did a poem parody of “The Night Before Christmas” with poise and clarity. Cody’s brother Jared played an electric guitar solo, and his cousin Donovan did a solo on his drums. Both solos were so good, and it was exciting to see how each had grown and mastered his instrument in the couple of years we have heard them play. Next in line was Donovan's sister, Bethany, a second grader, who sang “There’s a Song in the Air” with great talent.

The musical quality was high and we would have enjoyed it under any circumstances, but we listened with tears just below the surface because Kim and her husband Scott had spent this week in the hospital after Scott’s heart attack on Monday. Yesterday, the doctors sent him home with special care-taking by Kim giving him shots. Some of us had wondered how the program could go on, but we knew Kim’s sister-in-law Tina had been helping with the program and she would take over. But amazingly, Kim was there, and Scott even came down the short distance from their house to sit quietly and be there for that hour. Someone else took his place presenting the church’s present to the pastor.

After the older kids’ part, then we had the nativity scene. Many years ago, some talented seamstresses created a large number of costumes for angels and shepherds. They could not be more simple, so the seamstresses’ talent was in designing these practical garments. They slide over the head over the street clothes and are very adjustable to various size children. They are laundered and put carefully away from year to year, and no parent has the stress of trying to create a costume. And Kim is ready for whoever shows up. One of the cutest and quite effective developments in the last couple years is that when the time comes for the little ones to perform the nativity scene, they simply come to the front from where they have been sitting with parents and put on their costumes in front of the audience. The older kids and teens join them.

And that is when they sang “Away in the Manager” and another sweet song about the babe in the hay. Seeing Tyler swaying, smiling, and singing was a joy, and two-year-old Lena stole the show by trying to reach up and obtain the mike in their midst. She was ready to sing just as she had seen Bethany do. The program ended with a joyful rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” by four-year-old Amanda, who showed up today with her Christmas dress and matching doll.

Our church is strong on tradition, and we have a very old-fashioned Christmas program dating from no telling how many decades ago. It was set in concrete, when we first experienced it in 1962 when we moved to Williamson County. After the formal program is over, we sing a carol or two, and then most years, a Santa Claus shows up and helps with the distribution of presents that are under the tree. The teens help pass gifts to those who don’t want to come up and sit on Santa’s lap. While this is going on, two large serving bowls saved year to year for this very purpose filled with candies, such as chocolates, hard candies, and orange slices are passed to the congregation. During all the gift receiving and little ones talking to Santa, the bowls go up and down the aisles usually arriving just as you have finished the last piece you took. At the very end as we leave, sacks of Christmas treats with an orange, apple, and candy are passed to those who will take them. People don’t usually leave in a hurry as they linger to visit.

We came back home to Woodsong for Gerald’s nap as he watched TV and I resumed addressing Christmas cards. After supper, I had to make a birthday phone call to my sister. Before he went to bed, Gerald got a phone call from granddaughters Erin and Geri Ann that they were on their way up from Georgia, so we were pretty excited. We were expecting them tomorrow. But after their weekend softball camp, they needed to deliver a young friend to the Atlanta airport, so it was a wise choice to come on up to Illinois tonight. The door is unlocked, and I’m going to say good night to you, so I can go up and turn on all the outside lights to welcome them.

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