It has been just over a month now since Christmas and it has taken me that long to process some of the things that I experienced then.
Christmas here is a bit more low-key than it is the U.S. There is still a great deal of shopping and activity, but it was quieter overall. I have been told that up until a few years ago, Christmas was still a workday for many people. It just wasn't "done up" like I have known.
That being said, there were some very familiar elements to be had, especially when it came to church life. More about those in a bit. But first...
The relationship between church and schools here is much closer than it is in the States. The parish minister is considered to be the chaplain for the local school as well, and if the head teacher (think principal) is willing to have the minister come in, she is invited to do short assembly times each week with a religious theme. I will be leading my first one this coming Friday. I can only hope they can understand my mongrel accent.
Anyway, just before Christmas, each school presented a Christmas program and most of them had a Nativity play of some kind or other. Because MaryAnn, our parish minister and my supervisor, has a daughter and son who are in another school in our parish, I went to the one where I will speak on Friday so that she could be a mom that day and be with her children.
The sounds in the large gymnasium/assembly hall were much the same as many others I have heard. Parents and younger children rustled in with their winter coats, cameras of every variety adorning their necks and pockets. As each family jockeyed for the best viewing position, a very serious young man from one of the older classes handed out programs and reported anything needful to the teacher who was organizing things. I watched this all from my seat of honor as the parish minister (and yes, I was wearing my clerical collar so they would know what I was). The decibel level rose with every family that entered the acoustically challenged room.
What followed was really a cute play of the Nativity with all the usual characters, the story line we have memorized through the years, and music that was both traditional and new. There were only a couple of things that I didn't recognize from the original text. They were the line-dancing cowboys and the snake-charmer.
Yes, you read it right. Line-dancing cowboys and a snake-charmer. In a Christmas play. Noticeable, to say the least. And there wasn't a shepherd in sight.
The cowboys were cast as the modern-day shepherds -- though to be truthful, in a land like Scotland where there are a WHOLE lot more sheep than cattle, I would have thought shepherds would have been appropriate, too. Then again, I have never seen a shepherd even attempt a line dance. That may be well beyond their job description. Once I got past the shock of small Scottish children in cowboy hats, I was all right. They were quite good at what they did.
The next surprise came when the snake charmer made an entrance. It wasn't a real snake (which was probably a good thing). It was a stuffed snake attached to the charmer's wooden flute, rigged so that when the flute was raised, the snake came up out its basket. Why a snake charmer, you may be asking? Well, it really does make a bit of sense. You see, the charmer was accompanying the Wise Men from the East, and it makes perfect sense to me that they could well have HAD a snake charmer with them. It's just that that particular detail had never quite made it into the biblical account of Jesus' birth. Of course, neither did the fact that the baby Jesus would have had dirty diapers and SOMEbody had to change the holy nappies at some point.
Perhaps the best part of all this, upon reflection, is what it says about the coming of Jesus. In a time when we absolutely must become aware that no one nation lives in isolation from any other, the children in this school widened the story of Jesus' birth to embrace East and West in new ways. "For God so loved the world" we proclaim -- and here they made it clear.
I think I rather like having line-dancing cowboys and snake-charmers in the Nativity after all...