Shepherds aren’t allowed to use the glue gun

Published 7:00 am Thursday, December 24, 2020

I always wanted to be a Wise Man.

I think about this every Christmas season when the plays and programs begin, and it’s my duty to attend a fair number of these productions. They are mostly the same, and in one way or another purport to recreate the great event recorded in Luke chapter 2 of the Holy Bible.

Everyone, I suppose, has been part of a Christmas skit or play. A child of the South, I was in dozens of programs. And each of the productions brought the chance, yea the hope, of being chosen for a major part in the play.

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The Christmas story really has just six good parts for a kid, at least the way I had it figured growing up in the Delta. The angel choir was out for sure, because I was certainly not angelic, and my noise was far from joyful.

First, of course, was Mary. When I was a kid this part always went to a girl, usually the prettiest one in the class, just like the Lord intended.

With all that’s happened in this country the last few years, I’m almost afraid to look at the Mary actor at some programs. Who knows if it will be a Mary? Or a Gary? Or someone who isn’t sure if they are Mary or Gary? Too scary!

Anyway, the role of Mary was out for me. Next we had Joseph. Never had a chance there, either. Usually a tall kid with curly hair got to be Joseph. It also helped, I noticed, if your mother was the kind to surprise the class with brownies or cupcakes sometimes.

This leaves four good spots – the Drummer Boy and the three Wise Men. I was almost the Drummer Boy one year because the kid that had the role got chickenpox and was out of school after Thanksgiving. He somehow recovered in record time (a Christmas miracle!) and returned to class the day of the program.

He rendered a marvelous portrayal of the little Drummer and the teacher, who was worried the spotlight would show the Calamine lotion spots still on his face, said he was brave to come back for the program after missing most of the rehearsals.

The understudy, sadly, never got to rompa-bom-bom, and ended up playing a sheep, I think.

Now we have left the coveted roles of the Wise Men. This was the role I wanted. It was perfect. You got to stand in the back of the church or auditorium until almost the end of the program – no having to sit still and stare into the bright lights, and listen to all those songs for the hundredth time that year.

Yes, a Wise Man was the greatest role. Somehow I never made the cut, although some readers will think that’s perfectly fitting, and they’re probably right. No, it was always my portion to be counted among the mostly lowly of the characters – the Shepherds.

In the story the Shepherds have a great role, and it must have been a wonderful experience for those men that night some 2,000 years ago. But, it’s not a great part in a program.

First, the Shepherds are on the scene early and stay the whole time. Then there’s the costume. It’s terrible, but it has to be. A lowly Shepherd must look the part.

When the class worked on the Christmas play the Wise Men would get to spend extra time away from schoolwork while they decorated their costumes.

Wise Men got to wear nice robes, and wear big hats and carry boxes all painted up and covered in glitter. Shepherds had to wear these itchy old potato sacks, or whatever else the teacher could find to wrap around us.

We have old photos of Jeremy the Shepherd draped in a curtain that looks like something the maid at Graceland threw out. Mercy. How did I endure?

The staffs were just big sticks, and not very fun after we got bored poking people with them.

I also remember the Wise Men getting to use the hot glue gun to put gems on their hats. The hot glue gun, when I was in school, was reserved for the teacher only until time to make Christmas play costumes.

I wanted so badly to use the hot glue gun and asked the teacher if I could help with the decorating. She said, “No, go stand over there, you’re a Shepherd.”

The Wise Men got to walk slowly down the aisle, holding their fancy little cigar and tissue boxes with the mythical gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Shepherds, meanwhile, were standing off to the side wearing old curtains, itching like crazy, and watching all the fun.

So when I’m watching Christmas plays this year it will be with special attention to those youngsters, like me, not chosen for Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, or even the Drummer Boy, but for that lowly role commonly known by directors as “one of the Shepherds.”

A psychologist, I suppose, would say I have repressed feelings of resentment for Wise Men, and that probably accounts for my surliness. Maybe so.

Maybe I should embrace my inner Shepherd and get over the hot glue gun. It’s been 40 years, and it’s time to let it go.