One morning a few years ago, my wife and I were awakened by a really loud, bizarre noise. It kind of sounded like an elephant with asthma exhaling.
I jumped up and instinctively reached for the mission trip machete my wife won’t let me keep by the bed. Realizing that I was going to have to best whatever mythical creature was descending upon our house with my bare hands, I started to stretch and limber up my “core.” My wife exclaimed, “That sounds like a hot air balloon.” I laughed and said, “A hot air balloon? That’s ridiculous.” But then I peeked out of the blinds and saw a big blue balloon larger than our house about to land on our house.
We grabbed our daughter L.E., a video camera and ran outside as fast as we could. But as soon as we ran out the door, we were only a few feet away from a very embarrassed, young couple and one grizzled hot air balloon operator. The young guy looked like he was on the verge of proposing to his girlfriend when the wind changed and forced the hot air balloon to land on our street.
We didn’t think they’d be that close to our mailbox and suddenly we felt pretty silly filming someone that was only a few feet from us. It was really awkward and I put the camera behind my back and tried to play off the whole “sprinting outside to see the spectacle.” “Oh, hey, how are you? Top of the morning. What, this camera? No, we weren’t coming out to film you. This is how we start every morning at our house. Oh, look, a hot air balloon, that’s neat. Didn’t really even notice it. Have a good day.”
The whole moment was kind of weird and I was reminded of it when I recently experienced my very first live nativity scene.
I’ve never been to one that I can remember and was excited to see what all the fuss was about. So in the middle of a local Christmas light show near our house, I jumped out of the car, wove my way through a crowd and just stopped. There, in a pile of hay, was a smattering of random farm animals, a couple of people in ill fitting costumes and one shady looking camel. I thought that maybe this would be one of those moments I write about in my journal that taught me the “true meaning of Christmas.” But it wasn’t, I just stood there for a few minutes, watched a couple of disinterested sheep and then left.
I swore at that moment that I would do every thing I could do in my power to fix what was broken about that live nativity scene. (I didn’t actually swear, but I’d like you to get caught up in the drama of this moment with me.)
So here, if you ever try to plan a Live Nativity Scene are my 7 tips for Manger Management:
1. Don’t get a camel that looks like he wants to pickpocket you.
That was perhaps the shiftiest looking camel I’ve ever seen. It was pacing around like it was looking for a jailhouse shiv to stab someone with. I refuse to believe it’s that difficult to hire a kind-hearted camel. Take it out for a coffee before you put it in your live nativity. Get to know it at least a little.
2. Find a better animal handler.
At one point the animal handler, who was dressed up as a wise man type looking guy, kind of kicked at a donkey during an intermission. He didn’t leg drop it, but he definitely kicked at it as if to say, “Hey, quit eating so much hay and hiding in the corner. Get out there and give the people a show.” So point 2 should really be titled, “kick the donkey less.”
3. Get taller wise men.
I know that this live nativity was put on by a youth group, but you’ve got to get taller people to play the wise men. I’m not tall and assume that people that are tall and have British accents are wiser than me. I’m not saying they need both those characteristics, but if you managed to have a tall British wise man your live nativity scene might be unstoppable.
4. Mary did you know, it’s your time for a coffee break?
At one point during the show, they abruptly changed Marys. The new Mary just came into the manger like a tag team wrestler tagging in. It would have been better if there were a trap door involved or maybe the camel distracted us all while the Marys switched. I’m just saying, think about building a trap door next year. Is that too much to ask for?
5. Get more motivated sheep.
If the sheep aren’t excited about the show, I’m not going to be excited about it either. Bottom line. And these sheep looked asleep most of the time. I was going to make an energy drink joke here but I’ve already used up my allotted supply of pastoral humor for the year. Instead, think about having a wolf on the premise somewhere. Maybe in the crowd? That would make everything a lot more exciting.
6. Give out door prizes.
There’s not a person on the planet that hates a free fake beard. Seriously, everyone loves a free fake beard. Even if you have a real beard, you love a free fake beard.
7. Have the shepherds arrive on Harleys.
I’ve said this before, the shepherds were rough. They were tough and we’ve kind of wussified them over the years. We imagine them playing with baby lambs and cuddling cute, fluffy sheep. Forget that. Go old school and modern at the same time and have the shepherds arrive mid show on Harleys. In addition to getting the crowd fired up, that punk camel will probably get in line, the sheep will be excited and Mary can tag team out. If Harleys are too current, they could also arrive on wolves, but that could be slightly dangerous.
I write videos sometimes for my church, but rarely do they ask me for event planning ideas. Which is weird, because clearly, I’ve got some good ones.