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Finding community in Christmas
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"All the worlds a stage, and all the men and women merely players," wrote Shakespeare. Who knew he was talking about Christmas? - photo by Tiffany Gee Lewis
This weekend, the lights will go up onstage as my son and I perform in the holiday musical Miracle on 34th Street.

The audience will watch what happens between the two rolled-back curtains: The made-up actors dressed in their Christmas best, the glittering set pieces and the spots of bright light shining down on the stage. Theyll see little Susan Walker twirling in her blue taffeta dress, Santa riding across the stage in his sleigh and the pizzazzy final song in the courtroom scene.

What they wont see, or perhaps appreciate, is the host of volunteers who made this production happen.

They wont see the fleet of costumers who sewed shiny brass buttons on 13 band uniforms or the parents assigned to wrangle the kids and shush them in the wings. Nor will they notice the whispered directions of the stage manager as we roll the unwieldy Christmas tree to its mark stage left.

They might not appreciate the work of the prop specialist, who has labeled and organized the rows of props backstage, or the vocal coach who reminded us at every rehearsal, Diction, folks! It all sounds like mush! And for heavens sake, cut off on beat three.

No one gets rich off community theater. In fact, 95 percent of those involved are volunteers, retired kindergarten teachers who have a knack for sewing, choreographers, set designers, families who come on Saturdays to paint the backdrops, violinists who want to keep up their skills in the pit orchestra and older couples fulfilling a lifelong dream.

Thats community right there.

I cant think of a more fitting time to be involved in a community play than Christmas. Well, I can think of a less busy time, but putting together a production at the peak of the holiday season forces a different perspective.

In our individualistic society, even holidays such as Christmas have become about the one: shopping for each friend or family member, making those frenetic trips to the grocery store for more butter and sugar, slaving alone in the kitchen making cookies or toffee. Even online shopping, one of lifes great modern miracles, is a solitary act.

That is probably why most of us look forward to the shared events of Christmas: the dance studios Nutcracker performance, the middle school orchestra scratching its way through Jingle Bells, the elementary choir singing on the raised platform in the mall, all the way down to the grand Messiah concerts at the cathedral.

To me, coming together at Christmas is a reminder of that great Nativity night. It, too, was a volunteer production with a wide-ranging cast, from humble shepherds to scene-stealing kings. There was music from an angelic choir, an overture of greater things to come, and from the heavens came a solitary spotlight, shining on a small babe in a manger.

Like many of you, we re-create this scene each Christmas in our living room, wrapping scarves around our heads like makeshift turbans, improvising barn animals with the house cat, using whatever small child will hold still the longest as the Christ child. We narrate the story from Luke 2, and it becomes, in all its unrehearsed glory, a sacred ritual.

All the worlds a stage, wrote Shakespeare, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.

The roles we play at Christmas, from holiday shopper to loving friend to choir member and volunteer, all make up the meaningful parts of this holiday. And whether your Christmas involves a large production on a gilded stage or a simple re-enactment of the Christmas story, whether youre center stage or working the drop fly in the wings, youre a part of the story in this seasons great production.
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