The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

December 17, 2013

Shepherds, donkeys, sheep, wise men and Santa?

ENID, Okla. — How many times over the centuries must the story have been told, and in how many different ways?

It’s a familiar story, the young couple finds no room at the inn, so must repair to a local stable so the unwed teenage girl, great with child, can give birth.

But this is no ordinary baby, and this is no ordinary night.

Shepherds hail the child’s birth and wise men from afar follow the light of a bright star to bring him gifts and to worship him.

It’s a simple story, a beautiful story, a story that changed the course of human history.

It has been depicted in many great works of art, dating as far back as the fourth century. The nativity story inspired such giants as Raphael, Rubens, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

The nativity tale has been depicted in popular literature, dating back to the 1880 book “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.”

The nativity was featured in the series of miracle plays that originated between the 10th and 16th centuries.

In modern times, the story of Jesus’ birth was featured in films as diverse as “Ben-Hur,” “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” and “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.”

Television has told the tale in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” while musically it was portrayed in the tune “The Little Drummer Boy.”

It has been depicted on ornaments, on flags and banners, on ugly Christmas sweaters, and the ubiquitous nativity scene, the oddest of which feature figures like dogs, leprechauns, cows, ducks, robots and “Star Wars” characters.

And the story has been told countless times through the most popular form of presenting the nativity, the annual Christmas pageant.

Some scholars doubt whether or not there were actually donkeys or sheep present at the birth of the Christ child, but the animals have long been a staple of annual holiday pageants.

Thus it was during a pageant held at a local church over the weekend. Mary and Joseph were there, along with shepherds, wise men, angels, sheep and donkeys.

Some of the “animals” wore dark socks on their hands to simulate hooves. One donkey’s ears stuck straight up, making him look more like the Easter bunny, while others were canted at odd angles. The sheep wore headgear depicting white wool and black ears.

The angels were clad in white robes, with wings fashioned from bent clothes hangers and covered with silver tinsel. Halos made from the same tinsel sat on their heads, and must have itched, because one angel kept scratching at hers.

The story was told in word and song, with the children appearing in tandem with the church’s adult choir. The kids fidgeted, they waved, they bounced, they made faces, but when it came time to sing, they sang, delighting parents occupying the first few rows of pews and earnestly filming and photographing every precious moment with cameras and smartphones.

And then after the program’s conclusion, the angels, wise men, holy family and animals gathered around to see Santa Claus in a rather jarring juxtaposition of the sacred and the secular.

Santa handed out candy to all the children in attendance. A young man dealing with developmental challenges, standing as tall as Santa Claus, thanked him for his bag of treats with a bear hug then, before he returned to his seat, embraced the jolly man in red once again. This prompted a rash of eye-wiping among the adults in attendance.

Some of the smaller children followed up with hugs of their own, while a couple hid behind their mother all the way to the front of the church, then darted up to Santa, snatched the candy from his hand, then returned to the safety of mom’s shadow.

How many times over the centuries must the story have been told, and in how many different ways?

But no matter how many times it is told, and no matter in how many different ways, it is a simple story, a beautiful story, a story that changed the course of human history — with or without Santa Claus.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.

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