Yesterday at around four o’clock, I ditched the costumes for the party. Both the boys’ were done, as well as DH’s, but mine and Abby’s were just piles of fabric. No way my boys were going to dress up if mama wasn’t. Carefully weighing it out- should I stress and yell and cry and try and make two more costumes inside of an hour, or should I ditch and go to the party and have fun? Hmmm. Yeah, I went upstairs and cracked a Fresca and put my feet up. Maybe next year for costumes…

The party was fabulous. Truly the best church party we’ve ever attended. When we arrived, there were luminaries lighting the way to the front of the church, and Roman soldiers standing guard and brusquely pointing the way. The idea was that we were all going to Bethlehem to be counted for the census, and the soldiers were a nice touch.

Inside, we were herded into the dimmed chapel, masses of people in biblical garb surrounded by soldiers- we milled around, while some young women sang hymns at he front. The Roman soldiers came in a banged their standards on the ground, and instructed us toward the back to be counted. The folding doors were cracked just enough to let people through, where more Romans were standing guard, collecting our “taxes” (canned goods) in order to be admitted to the city.

Once inside the gym (It’s a gym, not a cultural hall!) the lights were low, and twinkling Christmas lights had been strung all around the edge of the room. A marketplace had been set up, and we were each given a small bag of coins and a basket. With our coins, we got to purchase our dinners. There were no tables or chairs set up, and we spread our blanket on the ground. (There was a bower with chairs and reclining couches for older folks).

The booths were made from hewn beams (we happen to have a few carpenters in the ward, and this was apparent from the beauty of the booths!) with canvas tops, grape vines, pottery, and even small “fires” lit the evening. (The fires were cauldrons with up-blowing fans, orange light-bulbs and fabric, but the ambiance was great.) There were booths selling grape juice, honey cakes, beggars purses full of wheat and herbs, dates, tangerines and dried fruit, a cheese and olive stand, a bakery with unleavened bread and other goodies. You took your family and your basket, bought your food, and sat on your blanket to eat. I have never seen so many people socializing and having so much fun… The kids were having a ball, and the blankets spread everywhere seemed to really open up the conversations between different families.

As dinner was winding down, (we have a DJ in our ward, with the requisite Bill Kurtis voice) a man began to read from Luke, and a spotlight shone on a young woman and man walking among the families on their blankets. It was Mary and Joseph, amid the crowds of Bethlehem, looking for a place to stay… A hush fell over the room, as we watched Mary and Joseph make their way, narrated by radio-voice guy.

The Holy couple were of course turned away from the booths, and made their way to the stage, where a barn (again, fabulous carpenters at work) was constructed, and they had put up gauze curtains, so the Christmas lights shone though the firmament over the barn. Nice touch.

There on stage, the rest of the story was acted out, including a choir of angels all in white calling the shepherds to be not afraid. Of course, Mary had a real baby- three week old Mason S. stood in for the Christ child. We finished by singing O Holy Night. There were tears in my eyes.

As we left, the three wise men were at the doors, along with the Roman guards, and they were handing out small, hinged wooden chests. Inside was a red velvet bed with a piece of gold, some frankincense and myrrh resin, as well as a parchment with the meaning of the gifts given to the Christ child.

The activities committee outdid themselves on this one, and our kids never even asked about Santa Claus. Like I said, it was a fabulous night.

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