It is Christmas time and Joss Becket with her beloved husband Ben, the co-owners of The Fair Maid and Falcon, one of the busiest pubs in the south of England, take their twin daughters on a walking Nativity…
Of course there was still a certain amount of work attached to the production of what seemed to have grown from a village event into something with rather more ‘reach’, but at least I was spared the organisational details. By mid-December the village had grown used to the presence of a camera crew and even a little blasé about the whole affair. For myself, I kept my head below the parapet as much as possible, only emerging to discuss such matters as ticketed suppers, hot mulled cider, and commemorative mugs. As to the actual event I was carefully incurious, feeling that if I wasn’t prepared to get fully involved the best thing I could do was keep my nose right out.
Then the big day came. It was the Sunday before Christmas. We were right in the middle of the countdown to the big day itself, and the weather was bloody freezing although that didn’t seem to be acting as a deterrent to the hundreds of people who poured into the village to,see the spectacle.
The play was to begin with the Announciation which would be enacted in the church, and then Mary and Joseph would progress through the streets, stopping to be turned away at door after door until they reached the Fair Maid where they would be directed to the barn for the climax of the story.
After a tea of soup and sandwiches I dressed the twins in their warmest clothing and the whole family, plus our head chef and his family, went along to see the fun.
There were crowds of people gathered outside the church, where two huge screens would relay the action from inside. As the crowd waited the speakers beside the screens played Christmas Carols into the cold air. We were among those select few admitted to the church where we were guided to our places by dark clad figures bearing torches. Promptly at six o’clock the church fell dark and a single bell tolled the hour. As the last bong sounded a light seeming to come from nowhere illuminated a young girl at a spinning wheel. She seemed unaware of our presence, singing a little song as the thread grew between her fingers. Then the light grew dazzling and a great voice filled the church. The angel dropped out of the sky on invisible wires and the oldest story of all begun to unfold. I will say it was brilliantly done and the villagers had been coached in their parts very well. So well, in fact, that it was hard to recognise them as anything other than Mary, Joseph, and assorted angels etcetera.
The crowd that followed ‘Mary and Joseph’ was surprisingly silent and even though it was many hundreds strong it somehow failed to impinge on the magic of this cold starlit night. When we arrived at the pub, most of the crowd was kept in the car park where more huge screens had appeared as if by magic.
In the yard fronting the huge barn where our Winnebago normally lives, we found there were straw bales to sit on as the sky clouded over and snow began to sift down onto our heads. As the first flakes fell the barn doors opened and we saw Mary and Joseph and the baby, and the patient donkey, and a few early lambs, and a couple of pygmy goats. It was beautifully staged, and we all awaited the shepherds and the magi with bated breath. Suddenly we could smell the smells of upland meadows and hear the melodious chime of cow bells as the humble shepherds came from the west. Mary looked at them and smiled, but instead of the ‘actors’ speaking the air was suddenly full of music.
Where Danilo had come by a gospel choir I knew not, but they were the real deal, and their voices told of the visitors and how they brought gifts to the infant king far better than speech could ever have done. Even I so far forgot my cynicism as to lean forward and listen enchanted. All too soon, it seemed to me, the barn doors rolled closed and it was over.
For a moment the lights dimmed to darkness and I could hear a rustling in the straw around me which I dearly hoped wasn’t mice. Then the lights came on – slowly getting brighter and brighter until it was almost daylight. All around me I could hear children’s voices and I looked at Roz and Ali each of whom had a tissue paper wrapped parcel in her lap. Lifting my eyes from their happy wonderment I looked about me to see every child in the yard had a gift and every child wore an identical expression of bemused delight.
Roz turned a face of binding joy to me. “Look Mummy,” she said, “a Christmas miracle.”