Most of us love rituals. We even need rituals. So the crowds this Christmas season at often otherwise empty churches and synagogues and the respectful throngs at the Native American dances that enrich the season here in the Southwest. We may claim to disdain this need, to believe in science, in rationality, but something in our basic human nature calls for ritual celebration with other people, even if the other people are strangers.
The ritual that returns to me most vividly this December is one I call Acting Christmas. Because my mother’s birthday fell on December 24, it seemed necessary to my father to add something to an occasion inevitably overshadowed by December 25th—to make it special for her in the way that Christmas in a large family can never be, when gathering up armloads of torn paper and ribbons seems to fall to the lot of the mother as her children rend their presents.
Father, who loved theatre in all its forms, decided that we would present Mother with a play.
There were many plays over the years, often written or adapted by me, with my four siblings and our father assuming the roles. The strange house we lived in featured an almost-stage—a large opening between parlor and music room with a heavy dark-green velvet curtain that could be closed. The music room became our backstage and green room, the parlor our performance space. We had no special lighting or sound system, and our only audience was our mother in a throne-like chair.
The only Christmas play that was ever photographed took place in Paris. It was a rendition of “Rumplestiltskin” which I had written because my younger brother, Jonathan, seemed so perfectly suited to the title role.
Pictures, as they say, are worth more than words, and so I am enclosing a selection. Father played the king, our briefly employed French governess the queen, I was the miller’s daughter who could only spin wheat into gold with the help of the malevolent spirit, Rumplestiltskin, brothers Barry and Worth were the miller’s friends. The play went off quite well and seemed to delight our mother, which was its sole purpose.
Now, as we act Christmas in all kinds of venues and with all kinds of myths and music, I feel fortunate to have been a part of this particular Acting Christmas.
May we all have the same blessed opportunity.