At the Catholic elementary school I attended as a child, it was tradition for the students to put on a Christmas play for the parish. The good Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary would work with us for weeks beforehand, auditioning for parts, preparing scripts, gathering props and costumes, and ever so patiently rehearsing with us until the big day. OK, sometimes it wasn’t ever so patiently, but that’s only because certain ones of us (who shall remain nameless) loved to try to push their buttons. Nonetheless, our Advent preparations revolved around the structure of the Christmas play.
Each year, it was a different play, expertly concocted by the sisters to include as many students as possible, but always some variation of the Christmas story. Anyone who didn’t merit a part on stage was given a “valuable” part in the choir. I must have been quite valuable, because that’s usually where I ended up.
In fourth grade, we did “The Little Fir Tree,” and I was positive that I was a shoo-in for the lead role. Seriously, how hard could it be to stand around and act like a tree? I tried out for the part and worked my hardest to look like I had a trunk and branches. In my mind, I was the best little fir tree there. Sister observed us carefully as we took turns reading from the script. Then she paced up and down the aisle for a few minutes as we awaited her decision. Finally, she walked toward the stage, looking from face to face.
“Boys and girls,” she said. “You all make wonderful fir trees.”
My heart began to pound.
“But, as you know, there can be only one Little Fir Tree.”
My palms got sweaty.
“So, to play the part of the Little Fir Tree, I’ve chosen ... ”
My head spiraled and my throat choked. Here it comes, I thought, she’s going to name me the Little Fir Tree. But the name Sister announced was not mine, and I was crushed.
“However,” she said. “Since you all are so good at being fir trees, the rest of you can be part of the forest, because our Little Fir Tree can’t stand alone.”
I was disappointed at not having the lead, but elated that I’d been given a part on stage. As it turned out, it was the only year I had a part on stage, but even so, for me it was the greatest of all the Christmas plays.
The story of the Little Fir Tree is about a small evergreen that ends up offering shelter to the Christ Child on Christmas night, and I’ve been thinking a lot about that story this Advent, and especially about Sister’s words, “ … our Little Fir Tree can’t stand alone.” In these present times when we face religious persecution, moral degradation and fiscal uncertainty, we need even more to shelter Christ in our hearts, homes, churches and in the world. Like the Little Fir Tree, we can’t stand alone. I’m using a play meant for children as an analogy, but the concept behind it is not child’s play. During Advent, the Year of Faith and beyond (see Pages 13-16), we must move closer to Christ and protect his presence among us, lest it vanish into the darkness. That takes a whole forest of fir trees.
Marge Fenelon writes from Wisconsin. For feedback, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.