Watching this video clip remind me of days gone by at the local Primary school, where every year we would eagerly await Christmas. There would be the customary banter, predicting and boasting about the toys and gifts, that “Santy” (as he was, referred to locally), would bring each year. You “Wish-lists” might back then, might have included anything from a football, transistor radio, Subuteo table top football or Mecano sets to the more grandiose gifts such as horses, swimming pools or your own personalised tractor with which to help daddy on the farm. This happy time gave the blaggard or dreamer within all of us “Licence to thrill” and we used it liberally. Often what was predicted never materialised and nobody seemed to really mind and sure wasn’t our dreaming all part off the fun.
Another part of our school Christmas preparation was the annual Christmas Show. Sometimes if you were lucky, this would be done over in the hall up on on the big stage and at other times it was a quiet little show in the school itself. There was always great excitement in the lead up to the show and I from an early age had my perfect role eyed out for whenever I would be one of the bigger boys in the masters side. My dream role was that of St. Joseph. In subsequent years I would learn much more about this great Saint, and “Role Model” for all fathers, but what attracted me to the role back then was the fact that you would be on stage the whole duration of the show. You also had nothing to do except lead the donkey carrying Mary, knock on a few Inn-doors whenever you got to Bethlehem and put the new born baby Jesus in the manger. There were no lines to be learned and the only thing that could essentially go wrong would be if the wheels on the donkey were splayed or not in perfect alignment. I remember one such donkey whose wheels were such that when pulled along he immediately headed for the edge of the stage and a possible drop into the unsuspecting audience. This wasn’t good for Joseph’s nerves but made for a really exciting show.
Joseph needed then to be a strong watchful character, and needed to know his donkey’s tendencies. The prospect of this happening were thankfully greatly diminished the year before my class would have their chance on stage. One of the many generous parents had been clearing out their children’s old toys and had donated a well aligned and fully functional donkey. Things were on the up and I was rather hopeful that I would secure the role of Joseph. In my head had in my head I was already predicting a wonderful life i would have with the perfect Mary that I had eyed out. In my childish innocence I dreamed that the “playing out” of these roles on stage would surely lead to a similar roles in life.
However we have oft been warned not to count our chickens, so you can imagine the horror I felt when that Christmas the teachers announced, that for the first time the school production would be a puppet show. I was horrified. The weeks before the show that year, were spent making puppets of Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, Kings (Due to a “wise man” shortage that year) and of course a host of angels, animals and of course the baby Jesus.
I remember well using wallpaper paste to monotonously stick layer upon layer of old newspaper onto half an old tennis ball In order to make the heads. After working on them we would place them on the window above the radiator to excelerate the dying out process. After a week of so, I remember finishing them off with layers of white or light coloured tissue paper readying them for painting then varnishing. I fell in love with my creation (one of the three shepherds) as it slowly began to come together. I could not wait to add a bit more to it and longed for the days we would work on our little people that slowly came to life in our hands. I changed from disdainfully glaring at it on the window sill to glancing over at it every chance I could get, to see how it looked. I would compare it to the others and generally became very proud and protective of it. Looking back now I realise that I really enjoyed performing this “therapeutic” creative role. Just like God himself.
We busied ourselves learning the carols and songs that we would sing on the night of the puppet show. My disgust and anger at not being an “in the flesh” Joseph on stage was somewhat compensated for through the additional role as assistant narrator, whenever I wasn’t standing with my hand up my shepherd puppet’s tiny outfit.
I still remember the buzz I got from that experience, our first and only ever Christmas Puppet show. Like every team success we have in life, this was the ultimate team performance, and perhaps for me, this whole was the first time outside the family home, where my ego suffered the indignity of having its wings clipped. I laugh now to myself, as I recall the experience. It was unique to me and I know that not all my classmates at that time will remember it. This is so with so many things in life. We all treasure different things and the same things In different ways. No one, but myself alone knew the dreams and aspirations I carried in my heart as we approached that final year at primary school.
In the tradition of Ignatian Spirituality we are encouraged to look for “God in all things”, to look for times of growth and learning throughout our “Graced Histories”. As I look back on this experience I recall the love and tenderness I felt as I layered, moulded and painted and as I carefully, like the potter formed my new creation. How marvellous it is to create something so unique, so individual and special as a human being. In his book “Weeds Amongst The Wheat” the author, persuades that we are creatures of choice, and we do not have our lives dictated to us by God. He uses the image of the puppet. Many feel helpless and constantly at the mercy of life and what it brings, with God determining the path for us as opposed to realising that we are not puppets. We are free and have access to a full relationship with our creator. This advent let us remember that the greatest gift God gives us is the gift of choice. May we use it wisely.