By Jack Bagby
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Editor’s note: The following story is an account of a Nativity play presented Dec. 19, 1965, by children of the First Presbyterian Church in Norman. It first appeared in The Norman Transcript on Dec. 20, 1965, and was reprinted on Dec. 16, 1966. It has been reprinted in newspapers all across the country. The story also won the Muchmore Award for the best news story in an Associated Press newspaper.
A preschool version of the Christmas Story, complete with more than a few last minute improvisations, unfolded before a delighted audience at the First Presbyterian Church Sunday night.
The pageant of the Nativity, presented by members of the Cherub and Chapel choirs, in general had proceeded well at dress rehearsal, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, wise men and other 4- and 5-year-olds in the cast had run more or less smoothly through their assigned parts. The Chapel Choir and a narrator provided the background, and except for minor entanglements with flowing robes and headdresses, few problems were encountered.
Then the Big Night arrived.
The first hint of trouble came even before the formal action opened when one of the younger members of the Cherub Choir, a boy of about 2, took a fancy to the doll representing the infant Jesus lying in the manger. Clambering on stage he made a beeline for the crib and was diverted from his goal only by the action of an alert father.
The innkeeper, exhibiting a lively proprietary interest in the stable, practiced leaping about the freshly strewn hay until the arrival of Mary and Joseph, whom he escorted proudly to seats beside the crib.
The shepherds and white-robed angels arrived soon after. And it was then that the young Cherub, perhaps encouraged by his part as one of the children come to adore the Christ child, decided on another try for the object of his affections in the manger.
He squeezed his way through the crowd, grabbed the doll and lifted it from the crib. Mary, reacting like any mother, made a lunge for the swaddling clothes, and a tug of war ensued above the manger.
Joseph, stunned for a moment, gallantly came to Mary’s aid with a swing at the intruder. And the innkeeper, proving not a bad sort after all, picked up a handful of hay and threw it at the would be abductor.
The arrival of the harried father, towering some three feet above the rest of the cast, restored peace momentarily.
But it was the hay, omitted during dress rehearsal, that caused the eventual downfall. Piled liberally about the tiled floor, it proved a lumpy and slippery footing. One of the shepherds, head bowed above the manger, suddenly went down. He scrambled up and immediately plopped down again. The third time he fell he grabbed the innkeeper; the innkeeper bumped an angel and half the cast toppled like a row of dominoes.
But the hay proved a soft cushion — fun to dive into, in fact. Soon the shepherd and innkeeper were competing in swan dives into the straw. A wise man scuffled with an angel whose gilded wings had slipped considerably below their proper place. The Cherub, once more eluding his father, tried unsuccessfully to wrest a crook away from one of the shepherds.
The narrator and choir, unfazed by the commotion, continued like troupers to the end; the cast was enticed offstage and peace once more returned to the somewhat disarranged stable.
One spectator, his voice still trembling with laughter, was heard to remark as he left the church:
“I’m glad I read the Book, ’cause they sure changed the plot!”
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