Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Of stables and camels and life-saving surgery

Camel's eye view..
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
I always associated churchy women with "doing the flowers" - and in my non-church days I vowed I would never be a churchy woman. There's an irony there, but I still don't "do" flowers. In fact, so far am I from this activity that when lovely people gave me flowers when I was ill on one occasion, my heart sank at the thought of having to disport them suitably in a pleasing receptacle.

However, Christmas allows for more varied decorating options. You've already noted the How To Make an Advent Wreath post, but have yet to learn of the possibilities of setting up the stable and its associated figures, one of which you can see in the foreground of this photo. The following should give you an idea:

A couple of days before the decorating is to occur, we ascertain from an animal-friendly member of the flock that we will have access to some hay: straw is rejected as being somewhat coarse. When we arrive at the church fifteen minutes late, we discover not only the hay but a custom-made cover for the tatty card tables on which will repose our tableau, and sigh with relief that we will no longer have to wrestle with the unwieldy brocade curtains which at one time, long, long ago, used to hang behind the altar. We ascend the tower, avoiding breaking a limb by skiting on the wet stairs; it has been seasonably wet and the tower is dripping with water. There, in the ringing chamber, there is a large wooden chest - large enough for a sizeable body, should anyone need to dispose of one. We fling back the lid and reveal the bubble-wrapped figures for Christmas and Easter. We begin to rummage.

There is confusion at first. Is the blue-clad old gent Joseph? No; he's St Peter, running at Easter. Put him back. Joseph is splendid in purple and an acid yellow, and is considerably younger. We abandon the Epiphany Mary in the search for the kneeling one - we shall regret not having the former to hand in a couple of weeks. The Wise Men are located, including the wonderfully Oriental-looking one. I recall how, some 30 years ago, an American lady called Verna who had done a course in cake decoration took all the figures away and repainted them in vivid colours; she insisted on giving Mary a wedding ring and somehow we've never got round to changing anything since.

The youngest shepherd boy has lost his head. Literally - we find it reposing in his bubble wrap, despite which protection all the plaster figures feel slightly soggy. Someone has brought a glue gun - the amazing Sharon who thinks of everything - and Di soon performs surgery. The shepherd boy looks just a little like Frankenstein's monster, but the scar won't show by candlelight.

The stable, also soggy, fits together first go and soon we have the donkey and the cow peering in and the figures in place. A candle which seems unlikely to ignite the hay is located and inserted in front of the crib. It is time to deal with the Magi. They are disported around the rim of the pulpit, which this year we have made more picturesque by totally removing the lectern. Some argument ensues as to whether they should be facing the star - a wonderfully vulgar illuminated job which hangs on a nail on the pulpit door and is connected to the same set of electric adaptors as the organist. We decide that one camel should have its backside facing the congregation, but that perhaps the kneeling figure should not go immediately behind it.

A couple of rhododendron branches stuck, appropriately, in a lump of Oasis and mounted on a tower of table and stool create a suitably palm-tree-esque backdrop and we are finished. There is always the danger that over-enthusiastic thunderings on the organ might bring the entire procession down on the organist's head, but it hasn't happened yet. Below us, the work continues - you can just make out in the photo the blur of movement that is the Rector - but our particular bit of creation is over.

And in case you wondered: no-one has preached from the pulpit in this century, thereby leaving it free for much more entertaining use.


  1. Anonymous1:54 PM

    "star - a wonderfully vulgar illuminated job which hangs on a nail on the pulpit door and is connected to the same set of electric adaptors as the organist".....I am very worried about the organist! Does he have to be plugged in often?

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  3. There, in the ringing chamber, there is a large wooden chest - large enough for a sizeable body, should anyone need to dispose of one."

    I would assume that the chest is packed full of figures, so body disposal would have to be done at Christmas time or Easter, when some of the figures are on display.

    As for the American who painted the wedding ring on Mary's finger... Luke 2:5. Can't you do a quick paint job?

  4. 'blurred picture of our rector' is becoming a theme. I distinctly remember one from Easter too. Still, I prefer it that way.

  5. Ah, I love your lively descriptions, Chris! I often feel as though I am right there with you! The mention of the poor shepherd boy looking "Frankensteinesque" (is that a word?) made me giggle aloud. How would ANYONE ever think to bring a glue gun for decorating? Some people are true marvels...far more adept at planning than I..

    I felt a brisk coolness come over me as I read about the dampness, but then realized it was the howling winds driving torrents of rain against the house right here! Yes, we are getting RAIN! Can you believe it? Oh, and winds gusting to over 50 miles per hour! Wheeee!!!

    A Merry, Merry Christmas to you!!!!
    Thank you for your wonderful vignettes and stories of life in Dunoon. And your lovely photos which you need to feature more on your blog!!!! How I hope to visit Scotland one day.

    Sending prayers of blessing to you and yours!

  6. Bun, the organist plays unplugged, but the organ is another matter!

    Joe - I keep meaning to, but then we put them back for another year and the moment passses.

    Kimberly - I know you do.

    Katya - it is now! A word, I mean. Happy Christmas!