I have a longstanding tradition of fine performances in church Christmas plays. Brandon’s mom directed the play at her church this year, and it reminded me of all the years I spent standing in front of the Bethel Baptist Church congregation in tinsel and robes, pretending to be various characters from the nativity story.
There was the year of “Away in a Manger,” when, for some reason, the play director (AKA my mother) entrusted a group of 6-year-olds with candles.
I have been just about every character in the nativity story you can imagine with mixed results. Since my mom started me out young, I was usually a pretty willing participant.
Then there was the year of the donkey. I was 8 and all the kids in the church had to portray animals that might have been at the manger the night Jesus was born and say a few short lines about that animal’s importance. That was all well and good for the kids who got to be animals like a dove, or even a sheep.
But that was not to be my fate. Nope, since my mother was the director of the play, naturally I was handed the part no one else wanted: the donkey.
Who knows why being a donkey was such a hardship. It was 1992, we were elementary school kids, and it made perfect sense at the time. I was pretty sure my mom hated me and wanted to humiliate me in front of the church and all the aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents who came to see the other kids perform their parts. Parts that were not the donkey. Because there was only one donkey, and it was definitely me.
I was not a bit shy about voicing my displeasure either. A.J. gets to be a dove. Josh gets to be a sheep. LeAnne gets to be, well, I can’t remember what LeAnne got to be, but if it had been a slug, I think I still would have preferred it to the donkey. My mom was a veteran elementary school teacher, and she tried everything she could think of to spin the situation in a way that would make me happy. The donkey is really the most important, she said, because that was how Mary was able to get to the manger. The other animals were just there. None of them actually did anything for the baby Jesus.
Naturally, that worked like a charm. Except it didn’t work at all, and I still pouted. I must have been such a joy to raise.
Last Christmas, my mom thought it would be fun to relive that proud moment in my history because, of course, the 1992 Bethel Baptist Church Christmas play is on VHS tape that my mom still has within easy access. Finding a VCR to watch it on proved a bit more challenging, but she prevailed and my whole family was, once again, subject to the infamous “year Rachel had to be the donkey.” Luckily, lo these many years later, I am totally over it.
Having not seen the tape in roughly two decades, I had forgotten what a performance I gave. I wanted to make sure everyone knew that the donkey was not my choice. While all the other kids stood in front of a microphone and said sweetly things like, “I am the dove sitting in the rafters, going, ‘coo, coo,’” I scowled and said, “I am the donkey” with a level of enthusiasm I’m sure you can imagine. I’m sure my mom was proud. They could make me do it, but they couldn’t make me happy about it. The congregation would know that being the donkey had not been my choice.
I think there must have been something wrong with that old tape or the VCR because that little donkey had quite the accent. Glad I’ve left that behind, as well.
Since the donkey came right after the unfortunate year involving the candles, I’m not sure why they ever allowed me to be in the play again. I peaked at age 3 when all I had to do was stand still and look cute.
Even then I do remember voicing some concern over the tattered tinsel on my wings since we recycled the same costumes year after year. I think several of my cousins had the pleasure of wearing that same set of wings, with varying degrees of tinsel tatter depending on the year. They were finally retired sometime in the mid-2000s. I have to admit, I kind of miss them.
After watching the tape I decided that making your child be a donkey in the church Christmas play probably does not constitute cruel punishment.
Of course, my cousin Christy still claims that some of the hairdos my mom picked out for me during that era could fall into that category, but that’s a debate for another day.