While the crackers, wrapping paper and TV specials may now feel like a distant memory (though the Christmas stomach remains a terrible legacy), I can’t help but still feel a little Christmassy. This time of year generally never fails to remind me of a creative period in my life, when I volunteered to help script (and occasionally act) for a church youth group’s “alternative nativity”. I think it’s reasonable to say that, in hindsight, this period included some of the most embarrassing moments of my teenage life. And my late present to you is my shame. Hope you enjoy (it was on offer).
The first nativity I helped with was based around the idea of the traditional Christmas story from the perspective of the animals within the story (the donkey, the camel and the sheep) arguing as to who has the largest role within the story. The point and moral being that none of them are in the original story per se except the Donkey, and their involvement is largely superfluous – similar to how many of us centre the holidays around ourselves rather than its original Christmas message, etc. etc. My sister was in the director’s chair, and my contribution to the performance itself was an awful hammy turn as the self-centred Camel, the apex of which was probably an excruciatingly embarrassing a cappela solo of “Huw the Camel has…one hump” before trailing off into silence.
I was fourteen.
My memory of the writing process is a little fuzzy, but I can largely imagine my elder sister’s reaction to my input: “Oh yes Huw, that’s a good joke there. Not too easy to get either. They’re the best. You can just write that down in your special notepad – I’ll look through it later and try and add in all your bits if I have room.” Pinter never got that shit.
After the rounding success of the first nativity, we were encouraged to create another look at the story; in this case, it focused on non-participatory characters in the original biblical story. For example, one of the innkeepers who turned away Mary and Joseph for Health and Safety reasons, trainee angels who hadn’t passed their exams in time to join in and many others including my personal favourite, the shepherd who had nipped to the toilet and had thus not been summoned by the heavenly hordes of angels to meet the son of God.
The vignette, “sketch” style of this nativity meant that the writing was more easily split between me and my sister, so I have only myself to blame for creating the flamboyant character of Herod’s celebrity profiler (as my monologue memorably ended, “some things are difficult to put a good spin on”), who was outrageously camp and dressed to kill in a sort of yellow furry coat and sparkly top hat (I’m also pretty sure I put together the outfit). Alone on stage, wearing that, saying those lines…I’m not sure what I was trying to do to myself, but I think I may have been self-consciously murdering my own social life.
As my sister departed for university, I had to step up both to her directorial duties and full control of the writing. By this point I was sixteen and pretentious, so I basically went all postmodern and made it about a church youth group trying to put on an alternative nativity (largely so that I could smarmily self-reference the two previous shows), with said performance inexplicably (even to me) adopted by a Hollywood director to make into a great spectacle, thus LOSING THE REAL SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS IN THE COMMERCIALISM OR SOMETHING. I think that it got away from me somewhat (though everyone was very complimentary), largely due to my stress from having to direct as well. Next year, I vowed, for my nativity swansong, things would be different – I would reign in the spectacle, and keep things from getting too silly or over-ambitious
So of course I made it about a time-travelling alien trying to discover the true meaning of Christmas with numerous sound and visual special effects. To be honest, calling it a “Nativity” was a bit of a stretch. There was a caveman in it. In hindsight I have no idea what possessed me to structure the play on a Doctor Who knock-off that felt dated before it had even happened. The level of historical accuracy in the time travel required almost super-heroic suspension of disbelief from the audience, and I can’t even remember what the “moral” was in that one (to be honest, it was probably something about not being distracted by commercialism and/or personal concerns at Christmas – pretty derivative of my earlier work, as I’m sure you’ll agree).
These might seem like less beloved Christmas memories. Some of the stuff I’ve admitted is a little embarrassing in hindsight (clearly my self-awareness hit puberty a little later than the rest of me), but overall I admit to having largely positive memories of being creative at Christmas. I always had a lovely and obliging cast to work with, and not an ounce of negativity from any audiences. I can’t say that it inspired any great playwriting talent in me (if anything, evidence suggests the opposite), but it was a lot of fun at the time, and I really shouldn’t begrudge the younger me a bit of a laugh at Christmas.
Though clearly I didn’t learn much from my own work – I just spent hundreds of words making the nativity story completely decentralised from its own meaning and focused it solely on myself.
Oh well. ‘Tis the season.