Last week, whilst helping out at school, my sister heard a teacher say the following: "would the two shepherds at the front PLEASE stop using their crooks as machine guns." You gotta love nativity plays. A few days previously, my smallest daughter was due to find out what part she was playing in her primary school's production of that well-known classic: Christmas with the Aliens. With her cousin as the Angel Gabriel in her own school play a few miles down the road, my smallest had high hopes. Another Angel Gabe? The Christmas star? Maybe, even, (fingers tightly crossed), Mary...
As soon as I arrived to pick her up from school I could tell things weren't quite right. "Are you okay?" I asked.
She shook her head, her face contorted into that cartoonish sad-mouth that only small children can carry off. "I don't like what I am in the play."
"What are you?"
"I...I'm..." There was a long pause, followed by a dramatic palms-over-face, and finally a banshee wail. "I'm...a...CHHIICCKENNNN!"
This drama-queen gene is carried by all the women in our family, including myself, so I had full sympathy. I swallowed my laughter, gathered her on to my lap and told her what an important part the Chicken plays in the Christmas story. Thankfully, her teacher sensed her uncertainty, and the following day bestowed on her the pinnacle of responsibility. Presumably due to the lack of a Chistmas Stork in this nativity-meets-ET extravaganza, it was now the Christmas Chicken's role to present the Baby Jesus to Mary at the appropriate moment.
So there I am, not long after, crammed into the hall with the other mums and dads, all of us grinning indulgently, as we watch a small group of colourful Aliens crash-land on Earth, stumble across a nativity production, and ultimately learn the importance of pre-booking hotel rooms. And then when Joseph, Mary, and a donkey in grey pyjamas, reach the stable, my eyes fall on my Chicken. She seemed agitated, looking madly around her, trying to get the teaching assistant's attention. The TA ignores her concern and ushers her on to the stage, along with the Christmas Pig, the Christmas Sheep and the Christmas Chick (my Chicken has a baby! Very proud). I hold my breath. This is her moment. The delivery of the baby to his yawning mother. My Chicken walks up to the edge of the stage and, in sotto voce worthy of any am-dram farce, says: "someone's taken the Baby Jesus." Then she makes a who-cares-anyway face, and the nativity continues without the main character, until all the Aliens are safely back in their spaceship, taking the story of Christmas home to those corners of the Universe it has yet to reach.
In peculiar juxtaposition, three hundred miles away, before the start of another nativity, two fathers get into a fight. During this kerfuffle one of them bites the other one's finger off.
Did you hear that? He bit the finger OFF.
Now call me old-fashioned, but as far as I'm aware a primary school nativity play is the least appropriate place for biting anyone's finger off, least of all someone else's. A dog fight, a death metal concert, or a Mike Tyson appreciation convention would be far more suitable events for such dedigitation. Perhaps in the future we should provide shepherd crooks at the door so any would-be finger-eaters could grab a couple on the way in and shoot each other instead.
That or make sure there are enough mince pies to go around...