The “Nativities” are Getting Restless

I used to write a column for several Northwest papers. Here’s one to help you celebrate the holidays. (PS-the names have been changed to protect the innocent…like there are any in my family that fit that description. Cartoon by Jared Rogers.)

By Dan N. “Max” Mayhew

The holidays have burst upon us. It’s time for my annual creative family activity guide. This year’s suggestions…

A Family Nativity Scene

Taking a tip from Stephen Spielberg, create your family’s video version of the nativity. All that’s needed is a cooperative cast, assorted bathrobes, dishtowels, cardboard boxes, and a video camera. Large families can produce a veritable holiday epic, while smaller families like mine (we have three children, René, Jill, and Benjamin) will have to content themselves with vignettes.

In our family’s Christmas cinema debut, four-year-old Ben needed a part with relatively few lines so we gave him the angel who proclaimed good tidings of great joy. Having selectively absorbed some of his Sunday school lessons, Ben thought that meant he got to be “the angel, Goliath” who would mow down the shepherds as they watched over their flocks by night. Over his objections, we changed Ben’s character to “Gabriel” then helped him memorize his only line: “Unto you is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord!”

The director’s cut of the video includes an artsy zoom-in shot of Gabriel, who in deadly earnest and pre-school diction, announces, “Unto you is bone dis day a children who is twice d’load!” From the video it’s hard to tell if Ben is announcing the Christ-child or very large twins.

René and Jill did their best to portray Mary and Joseph. Jill, with a keen appreciation for the reproductive process, stuffed the biggest doll she could find into her pajamas creating a lumpy protrusion that made her look as though she was about to give birth to a reindeer. René, dressed in a bathrobe and with her head wrapped in a dishtowel, portrayed Joseph.

In a wide shot of the holy couple, Joseph emerges from behind the sofa where he has been searching in vain for the inn. He then gives the distressing news to Mary who is supposed to valiantly place her plight into the hands of the almighty. It would have been a moving scene if “Joseph” upon seeing his wife pregnant with a reindeer, hadn’t burst out laughing, causing Jill to dissolve into giggles and spontaneously go into labor, producing a fully clothed “baby” right on camera.

In home video production it’s often necessary to use a good deal of dramatic license with the script.

Dough Art Tree Decorations

Another great family activity is making holiday decorations out of cookie dough. Imagine the fun you and the kids will have rolling out the dough, cutting it into holiday shapes, then hanging the cookies all over the house or on the Christmas tree where they can be pillaged by the children when you’re not looking.

Come to think of it, real cookies aren’t a very good idea. Even if you can threaten the children and keep them from consuming the decorations before your first holiday party, they would just grow stale and moldy, and attract rodents-that’s the cookies, not the not the kids.

The alternative is “dough art.” Dough art is a cement-like substance made from flour and salt and, if the ornaments we have left over from past years are any indication, industrial adhesive. The advantage of dough art is that it can be rolled and cut like cookie dough but is inedible. Furthermore, I can testify that it’s durable. We still have some dough art ornaments that Judy made in 1972. Do dough art with your family and you’ll not only be making special memories, you’ll be producing artifacts that may well be unearthed by civilizations centuries from now. One disadvantage to dough art ornaments is that they are dense, meaning that too many of them hung on one side of you Christmas tree can cause it to fall over. [Hint: Left over dough art can be used to make various kinds of ammunition.]

Chiristmas FolliesIts density makes dough art perfect for a festive holiday fruitcake. Just mold your dough art into the shape of a brick, press a few JuJu Bees into it, bake it for about three days and paint it brown. When wrapped in Saran Wrap, the result will be a realistic fruitcake replica that can be mailed back and forth among your relatives for years to come, just like the real thing.

Homemade Gifts

Finally, try giving hand-made gifts this year. Homemade gifts are more personal; they are a thoughtful way to honor your special relationships; they help keep credit card debt from triggering a call from a collection agency. Try making some clever personal “gift coupons” on which are listed services that you will perform on demand. Coupons are a great idea because they are often misplaced and thrown out with the wrapping paper.

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