December 20, 2011

The Friendly Beasts around Him Stood

I've always felt connected to the land. I am no great gardener, but I am a lover of trees, of the natural world, and of the simple miracle of how a huge sunflower grows from a tiny little black seed planted in soil. Now that I live in farm country, this connection to the land inevitably includes a certain affinity for animals. Growing up in a small city in the mountains I was not used to being up close and personal with any breed larger than a medium-sized dog (Shag) or a cat (Kiko). Through my daughter, however, I have become fairly comfortable around horses, and by embracing my farm country life, I have been introduced to cows, goats, chickens and donkeys. Although, admittedly, I don't think I have what it takes to become a farmer myself, I have great respect for my friends and neighbours who are.

This past Saturday, I took part in a live pageant called 'A Journey to Bethlehem'. This annual event is made possible by some wonderful local people. Farmer extraordinaire George, an ex-pat Yorkshireman and his wife Deborah, a Swiss-trained cheesemaker put their skills to work creating a business which has created award-winning cheeses and continues to draw weekenders from all over the Lower Mainland. Using their outbuildings, their animals, and several of their friends and family members, George and Deborah create a memorable experience which recalls Mary and Joseph's search for a room during the Roman census taking place in Bethlehem. We all know where that room ended up being, in a stable kept warm by the breath and body heat of animals.

Two re-enactments of the Journey to Bethlehem were presented, one in the afternoon to a medium sized crowd of families, and an evening one to a very large crowd. I am one of four in an a-cappella quartet, and we were invited to play the angel chorus for the pageant. I had not worn an angel costume since playing one in a pageant in high school. We were a group of rather puffy looking angels with white robes worn over our vests and scarves. We had four places along the route where we were to appear to have arrived like real angels and sing. Our first location was by the cow barn where Mary and Joseph appeared from around the building, Mary riding a real donkey. I wonder if the real Mary and Joseph's donkey was that stubborn - it took all of Joseph's strength to keep him on task.

We couldn't edit that gleam out of Marilee's eyes.

While Mary and Joseph toured the farm's outbuildings looking for a room, they encountered several people:  a woodcutter with a German accent and a spinning woman with a British one, several inn owners with children shouting 'no room' to the amusement of the crowd. We angels hummed the tune of 'What Child is This' while it became clear that there was indeed no room that night for Mary and Joseph anywhere in Bethlehem. While the crowd was directed to another location by the narrator with a megaphone, we angels sneaked around the back of the building and climbed up a ladder to a hayloft from where we sang to the shepherds keeping watch over their sheep in the fields:

When the shepherds left their field to search for the 'babe lying in a manger' we angels climbed back down the ladder and snuck around the back of the stable where the Clydesdale draft horses live, ducked under a railing and met the shepherds, goats, a calf and three wise men at the manger where Mary and Joseph now resided with the swaddled baby doll Jesus. Gathered behind the Holy Family we sang 'Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine' while crowds of thirty or so people at a time visited the final scene in the pageant. Children scooped up barn kittens and oohed and aahed at the sweet baby goats and the calf which were near enough at hand to pet.

Only three of us angels could make it to the evening performance.
The fourth had to keep watch over a birthday party.

When we had finished singing and the crowds were moving on to the pine huts where vendors served hot chocolate, spiced apple cider and cookies we climbed out of the manger. There were still some people milling around visiting with the animals in the goat barn. While I climbed out, a little dark haired girl looked at me in amazement. "You're wearing BOOTS?" I suppose most angels are able to go without something so earthly as mud-proof footwear.

Every Christmas there is something with a bit of magic in it. The Farmhouse Cheese pageant was one such event, for me at least. In the hustle and bustle of trying to help make Christmas special for my family, and with all the shopping and the baking, the recitals and the concerts, it can be easy to get caught up in the whirwind of the Season. I so enjoyed going back to the simple, beautiful roots of it, beasts and all.

Thanks to my daughter for taking photos that night.

I tried to find Peter, Paul and Mary's version of The Friendly Beasts, but I found this one instead, which will do nicely, I think, and reminds me of Christmas singalongs from my childhood. Have a magical week, all!



  1. Lovely story! And how lovely to have an interlude of calm and thoughtfulness during a busy time.

  2. What a wonderful occasion to bring everyone together in celebration of the true meaning of Christmas.

    So nice that God put talented people on earth: actors and singers. :)

  3. You provided the bridge between the sections, eh.

    Do they keep it going with more than one performance.

  4. Wow, your Farmhouse Cheese pageant sounds really special! That little girl will probably always remember the angel with the boots!

  5. Thanks for the comments, friends. Yes, I suppose we were the musical bridge :) The pageant is performed only twice that day, but Mary and Joseph and the baby doll Jesus, not to mention the animals are a continuous presence throughout the season for visitors to the manger.

  6. so very that would have been a sight to all the people that they meet there at the in...that is cool...have a wonderful merry christmas!

  7. This looks like a wonderful pageant. I love the angel costumes and the title of the pageant.


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