Sunday, December 20, 2009

Two Nativities

As I write this, many people are making out a shopping list on this last weekend before Christmas. Oh, we've done some shopping, but there is more to do than spend money, and we are grateful for the opportunities to remember the blessings of this season.

The Yargo Community Band gave a free concert in my hometown, and we received a couple of invitations, so we attended the performance. Since they are a fairly new organization, there are not many musicians, but they were of all ages, from high school to their eighties. The music was more or less traditional, ending with a sing-a-long medley of familiar carols.

After dark, we drove over to Madison County, and as we did so, we passed a country church with a large lighted Nativity scene in their yard. The figures were flat, but the spotlights called attention to the display. When I was growing up, many churches and other organizations would put out a Nativity scene as a reminder of the real reason for celebrating. Hubby and I remarked that it has been years since we saw one near our home.

A few more miles down the road, we arrived at our destination, a rather rural road where the residents put out luminaries, and one farm family goes a bit further— their place features a live nativity. As we approached the road, we noted quite a few cars, slowing for the occupants to look at the soft lights of the luminaries. As the traffic on the country road became congested, we saw that cars and trucks were parked in the grass on the side of the roadway. I pulled over and we got out, donned hats, gloves, and heavier coats, and walked up to a barbed wire fence. Christmas music was playing in the background, and several parents were holding tots aloft. As we came closer, we realized that the kids (and some adults) were petting a rather large camel. Beyond the crowd of folks near the fence we could see two more camels, a donkey, a couple of sheep, a couple of cows, and a campfire. Three shepherds warmed themselves at the fire. A bit further back, we could see the stable, with a manger, Mary and Joseph, and some magi. A large star called our attention to the figures in the stable. As we stood, watching the scene, a couple of young folks dressed as angels joined the group around the manger. A young shepherd brought out some hay for the cows and camels, and there was some shifting of position as the animals moved to the pile of hay each of them preferred.

Hubby and I grinned, despite the cold wind, as we stood watching the animals, the people dressed in costumes, and the parents who brought their youngsters. As we returned to our car and drove the rest of the way down the road, looking at the luminaries, we discussed the scene, a living testament that Christmas is still celebrated, not just for the stuff under the tree, but for the person for whom it is named.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Reader’s Version

I accompanied my son and some other homeschool folks to A Christmas Carol, performed at the New American Shakespeare Tavern, on Peachtree Street in Atlanta on Tuesday. As the cast took the stage of this “reader’s version” they began with some impressive accapello caroling. The story is familiar to most people, of course, but the swiftly changing corps of narrators also brings Dicken’s prose into the spotlight.

The plot is about the change of heart of Ebenezer Scrooge, and Drew Reeves did a marvelous job of bringing him to life, with a decidedly comic overtone. Indeed, there was plenty of good humor in the entire production, yet it was done without sacrificing the poignant themes that cause this story speak to generation after generation.

The audience was mostly young folks, since we were at a student matinee performance, and I did enjoy watching their reactions, almost as much as I enjoyed the excellent acting, singing, and occasional instrumental music. Instead of a large cast and elaborate sets and props, the folks at the Shakespeare playhouse make do with a few talented actors, a bit of pantomime, and the imaginations of their audience.

I can’t quite remember every version of this story that I have seen, and I have not seen the new one which is in movie theaters this Christmas season, but I do like the television version with George C. Scott as Scrooge. About a decade ago, my sister took my daughter and me to see an excellent production of it at the Alliance Theatre, which is also in Atlanta. While I have enjoyed every play I have seen at the Shakespare playhouse, this version of A Christmas Carol stands out as perhaps the best play I have seen at the venue, and certainly it is the best version of this classic tale by Charles Dickens that I can remember.

There are many ways to celebrate Christmas, from stuff to stuffing. However, people remember experiences more than either material goods or food, and seeing A Christmas Carol in an intimate playhouse with an enthusiastic audience is a highlight of the season.

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