Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Away in a manger

ONE OF the annual joys of working in the Derry Journal is that come each Easter you get to cover the annual Feis and have a jolly old laugh about those silly Irish dancing wigs and the rather scary antics of that well known Derry creation- the Feis mammy.

You see from the moment the first wain steps on the stage at the Forum and recites a poem or dances a wee jig, all hands are on deck here in the Journal office to field calls from anxious parents wondering when their wee darling's picture is going to appear.
Until now, I've scoffed with the best of them but recently I fear I may be morphing into one- or worse still, I'm becoming the Feis mammy's evil cousin- The Nativity Play Auntie.
My darling niece Abby, aged "three and three corters" (as she would say it) is at nursery and soon to take to the stage for her acting debut in the school's production of "The Nativity".
According to herself she is going to be a fairy- but we know better. She is in fact going to be taking the starring role of the Angel Gabriel. (See Nativity Play Auntie is already wondering why they didn't see her potential as Mary, but we'll keep quiet about that for now- after all Gabriel gets to wear a more sparkly costume).
So as the big day approaches, we've all gone into overdrive singing Christmas carols over and over and talking through the story of Joseph, Mary and the Baby Jesus (complete with the nodding of the head ala all young children).
I'm stupidly excited for a number of reasons. The first being that my own child is much too young to be given any starring roles just yet. He would be more inclined to lift the Baby Jesus (nod your head), count to three and throw him across the room shouting "Ta Daaaaa!" than sing "Away in a Manger", as that is favourite game of the moment.
The second reason is that I never had the chance to be in the nativity play myself. When I was wee, our primary school had a policy where the two P3 classes took it turn about each year to get the honour of putting on the show and when it my year, it was the other class who got to wear the tissue paper angel costumes and wire hanger wings.
It is something that has always kind of galled me, especially as my older sister got to play an angel and my younger sister (Abby's mammy) hit the jackpot and got to play Mary. (We still have the hilarious video somewhere of Emma announcing to an enthralled audience at Rosemount Primary School "Am gonny have a baybeeee, Am gonny call him Jeeeesus" (Nod of the head).

No room at the Inn
There has therefore always been a latent desire in me to be an angel, an innkeeper, a shepherd or even (I'm getting desperate here) the donkey.
So when Emma revealed that Abby had beaten off stiff competition from a host of other three year olds to get a leading role, I immediately realised this was my chance to experience the nativity- all be it vicariously.
Now, you think as a relatively sane and sensible 29 years old I would be happy enough to go along on the day, watch the show, wipe a proud tear from my eye and saunter back home again proud as punch- but no...that is not enough for this auntie.
I have reached the point of no return and done the unthinkable. Oh yes, I have found myself singing the songs with Abby and, I admit, mouthing the words in an exaggerated fashion just in case she would forget.
To give her her dues, Abby is not entirely happy about this. "I know the words Auntie Claire," she declared in a rather exasperated tone the other day as I proceeded into the second verse, even though that won't actually be sung on the day. But I was on a role- I was giving it everything, and shaking my head with gusto that the "Little Lord Jesus (nod of the head) no crying he makes".
And as she skipped around the living room singing some song about being there when Jesus was born, I clapped along in time and gave her a short (and soon forgotten) lecture on posture.
But that aside, I'm sure it is not just my bias as her auntie which makes me think her singing voice really is angelic and which makes me know in my heart of hearts that no other child on stage that day will outshine our wee angel.
And much as I'll be there, mouthing the words and feeling those butterflies in my tummy on her behalf, my biggest hope isn't that she is word perfect or utterly in tune- it is simply that she enjoys herself and always remembers her big stage debut.
All that said, I've asked Abby if her teacher, Mrs. McDowell, could perhaps find me a role in the play, but it seems I'm too big and will have to wait until I am a little girl again (Abby's words). It's hard, but I suppose I have to accept some dreams just won't come true.
Nonetheless if you hear of anyone who needs an understudy for a Mary or even a flea bitten donkey, keep me in mind. I already know all the words to "Away in a Manger" after all.

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