Reflections on the Perfect Christmas Eve
By Amelia Wallworth
When I tell people about my family’s Christmas Eve tradition, most of them find it hard to believe. This may seem like a classic “hook” line, but I promise once you reach the end of this story, you too will be left scratching your head.
It begins with a big pot of spaghetti. My parents, siblings, and grandmother sit around the table, fueling up for the night ahead. Once we are done, all six of us pile into our car and drive to the church. This is where the fun begins. You see, the church is in downtown Halifax and doesn’t have a parking lot. This requires that the person driving pulls to the side of the street so that the rest of us can go find seats. For those of you who haven’t tried getting five people out of a minivan on a busy street, it is not an effortless task. It entails pulling back chairs and climbing over rows, all while the cars behind you wait to drive past. One year, a bus driver thought we were taking too long so he blasted the horn and waved his arms frantically at us… truly embracing the cheer-filled spirit of Christmas.
Once we make it to the church, we settle into a pew. The band plays Christmas carols while people stream in. The place is, without fail, completely packed every year. At 6:30, the lights go down and the crowd falls silent. The Angel Gabriel appears on the stage, microphone in hand, ready to share the news of man’s salvation. And so begins the greatest nativity musical to ever be performed.
The first scene features the Angel Gabriel telling Mary that she will soon give birth to Jesus. Of course, this holy message is delivered through the song “A Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman, and then quickly followed by Mary and Joseph’s duet of “Call Me Maybe” and “Shake it Off.”
You see, every Christmas Eve, the church’s congregation puts on a nativity musical with a soundtrack that consists of hit pop songs they have rewritten to narrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Of course, the nativity would not be complete without a donkey. In this case, it’s a real life donkey in the middle of a church in downtown Halifax on Christmas Eve.
The donkey is brought in by the donkey salesman — an infamous character in the real nativity story, obviously — who is dressed in a fur coat and a cowboy hat — also true to the real nativity story, of course. Being the clever businessman that he is, he convinces Mary to buy his donkey by singing “You gotta take that donkey to Bethlehem, you gotta ride it ‘til you can’t no more,” to…you guessed it, the tune of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.”
I’ve always wondered what the donkey thinks about his role. Is he honoured to play the most famous member of his species? Does he consider this his act of charity for the season of giving? I guess it’s foolish to project these thoughts onto this donkey… he might not be a Christian after all.
In the original nativity story, Mary and the newborn Jesus are visited by three wisemen. In the musical version, however, the wisemen are samba musicians and there are a lot more than three of them. If you know what Samba music is, you might now be second guessing if you actually do. After all, how does Samba fit into the birth of Jesus? But no, you would be right. Samba is the music they play at Brazilian street carnivals. Yup, that’s the one — with the drums and the whistles and the bells. I imagine the conversation between the writers went something like this:
“What song should we use for the scene with the wisemen?”
“I don’t know, there aren’t too many three person songs out there.”
“How about we make them a samba band instead?”
My grandfather used to be one of the samba wisemen. When I was younger, I was pretty proud of this… none of my friends could say their grandpa was the nativity drummer. One year, he wore an extravagant hat with a large Christmas tree on top of it. After the show, a woman approached him and scolded him for wearing something which didn’t embody the “true meaning of the season.” She was saying this to a grown man who had just performed for baby Jesus with carnival music, but I guess it was the hat that really did it for her.
Once the play comes to an end, the entire church sings “Silent Night” together, and I, along with many others, always tear up. I truly believe that this is the most beautiful version of the song I have ever heard, and I sometimes wish I could bottle up that moment and take it out when I need a pick-me-up. It may sound strange, but this little nativity musical is my favourite part of Christmas. It represents what I love about this time of year — people coming together simply to have fun and be with one another.
I don’t have some “hot-take” opinion piece on Christmas. I don’t even really have some big reflection or insight on it. I think that the essence of the season is whatever you want it to be. The holidays have a different meaning for everyone; we each have our own traditions and ways of celebrating. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Christmas is what you make it, so who would I be to lecture you on it? Instead, I thought I would tell you about something that makes me happy and, hopefully, made you happy too. So, to be horribly clichéd, let me say, in true Love Actually fashion: to me, you are perfect, nativity musical.