Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas story

Went to the church Christmas party tonight. I got a $50 parking ticket. Aggghhhhh! Other cars were parked on the street where I parked, it was dark, and I saw no sign prohibiting parking at that time. I needed to purge my stupidity from my head. So I got to thinking about the pageants we used to do when I was in grade school at St. Camillus back in the day before color television and digital recording and $50 Arlington parking tickets. And I wrote my own Christmas story. The story is fiction but many of the details are true. I'm just not saying what's true/what's not.

Bridgette Marie Does Christmas

Bridgette Marie Donnelly wanted nothing more than to play the angel in the school Christmas pageant. In second grade she had been a bit of a disciplinary challenge for Sister Ignatius, flipping baseball cards with the boys, letting her dog eat her homework, and disrespectfully mouthing off. She even got the attention of Monsignor O’Donnell when she wore red socks to the First Communion rehearsal. The girls had been explicitly ordered to rehearse in the shoes they would wear on First Communion Sunday. Everyone knew they had to wear all white—white dresses, white shoes, white socks, and of course, white veils. Bridgette Marie had no intention of wearing red socks with her new white shoes for the real First Communion day, but she wanted to save her clean white socks for Sunday. And besides, she just wanted to be a little bit of a rebel, even when she didn’t know what a rebel was. After all, much to the dismay of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, her given name was not the standard Irish Bridgid, but rather a bastardized, French version of the name. She was only permitted to be given the name in baptism because of the Marie attached to it.

So she started off the school year in third grade focused on being really, really good so she would be chosen to be the Christmas angel. A third grade girl was always the angel. It had to be third grade girl because at Christmas the second graders had not yet received first Holy Communion. And fourth grade girls just were not suitable to be angels. No one dared say why a fourth grade girl could not be chosen to be the Christmas angel, but it was whispered that some of the fourth grade girls were beginning to develop breasts, and everyone knew angels did not have breasts.

She knew she’d have a good shot at winning the angel role. Mary Catherine McCarthy had fair skin and golden ringlets, but she was so awkward it was likely she would fall off of the ladder where the angel stood. (When Mary Catherine McCarthy was in her twenties, she became the mistress of a Congressman and got involved in a bit of a scandal when the much older Congressman left his wife of 30 years to marry Mary Catherine.) Maria Torina loved the Blessed Mother and knew the Baltimore catechism inside and out, but she had raven black hair, and everyone knew angels were blonde. (Maria grew up to become a sex therapist.) Mary Annette Johnson could have had a shot at the angel role, but no one had ever seen her father and it was rumored that her father wasn’t even a Catholic, so Mary Annette was not angel material. (Mary Annette emancipated herself and moved to Paris when she was 16 and she made a fortune in pharmaceutical sales.) The students at Our Lady of Sorrows School were held to a high standard.

The school principal, the draconian Sister Philomena, had the final say on which girl would be chosen as the Christmas angel. Even Monsignor O’Donnell dared not interfere with Sister Philomena’s decision. Sister Philomena summoned Bridgette Marie Donnelly into the office.

“Well, Lady Jane, I suppose you know why I have called you here.” She didn’t give the girl a chance to respond.

“Something tells me I could be making a big mistake but I have chosen you to be the angel in this year’s Christmas pageant. You know that only the role of the Blessed Mother is more cherished than the Christmas angel. You, of course, are not eligible to be the Blessed Mother. The Blessed Mother must be an 8th grade girl who intends to enter the convent. Only such a holy girl can portray the mother of Our Lord Jesus.” As always, she bowed her head when she said the name of Jesus.

Bridgette Marie looked down at her lap and softly said, “Yes, sister, thank you, sister.”

“Off you go, missy. Don’t you dare disappoint me.”

“Yes, sister, thank you, sister.”

Bridgette Marie Donnelly walked down the hall, directly into the girls’ bathroom and upchucked.

Every day after school for two weeks, the children practiced their roles in the pageant. Bridgette Marie’s role was simple. She had no lines to speak and she didn’t have to enter or exit the stage. She just stood on a ladder behind the Christmas tree, looking with angelic awe at the baby Jesus (an oversized rubber baby doll wrapped in swaddling clothes). At home she tried to practice looking with angelic awe at her Chihuahua Marvin, but Marvin didn’t appreciate being wrapped in swaddling clothes and wriggled free. Marvin was a lousy substitute for the Divine Infant.

Her mother constructed an angel costume with sheets, gold Christmas garland, and coat hangers. But to compensate for the homemade angel costume her mother gave her a home perm and bought her a new pair of shiny white patent leather angel shoes.

The day of the pageant arrived. Everyone was in their designated place—Mary, Joseph, the rubber baby Jesus laid in the manger, the shepherds, the three wise men, and some 5th grade boys dressed as animals. Bridgette Marie stood proudly on the ladder behind the Christmas tree. As the narrator recounted the story of the Savior’s birth and they all sang Christmas songs, Bridgette Marie stood looking down with angelic awe on the baby Jesus. But then, for an instant, she lost focus, looked up from his holy face, and saw Sister Philomena pacing back and forth in the back of the auditorium, nervously twisting the rosary beads at her waist. Bridgette Marie's knees started to shake. Her shiny new shoes began to slip on the rung of the ladder and she felt herself, as in a dream, begin to slowly dive forward into the Christmas tree. Then the Christmas angel loudly cried out, “Jesus Christ!” It wasn’t a reverent proclamation of the savior’s name. It was the cry of a 3rd grade girl with blonde ringlets, dressed in a homemade angel costume, as she and the lighted Christmas tree crushed the rubber baby Jesus laying in the manger.

Sister Philomena screamed--such an unearthly sound had never been heard coming from a nun. The audience laughed until they were full of the joy of Christmas. For some, it was the best Christmas pageant ever.


  1. Super cute story! So sorry you got a parking ticket! I got like 5 or 6 when I was living in Richmond from really strict parking times I misread...the worst.

  2. What can I say? It's not worth arguing with the police that I couldn't see the signs. I'm brushing it off, considering it a donation to the police protective society. It was still a great night--such joy to the witness the baptisms. And a great chance to catch up with you.

  3. Donna, Having been at St Camillus with you this story is absolutely perfect !! I enjoy your posts and your recipes. Have a Blessed Christmas for Jesus is the reason for the season. Peggy

  4. Peggy! How great to hear from you and I'm honored that you are reading the blog. Yes, those days at St. Camillus. Details were changed but the spirit is the same. And a blessed Christmas to you. What a crazy journey this faith is--from the innocence of Christmas in Catholic school to we, now grandmothers, finding such solid grounding in Christianity.