Making a Joyful Noise

Dear Blue,

Today may or may not be baby Jesus’s birthday. Nobody actually knows when the Christ in Christmas actually came to this planet, so we just arbitrarily set the day at December 25. That gives ample time to cram as many traditions, Christmas carols and fruitcakes down people’s throats until the big day finally arrives.

Right now, we’re hitting prime Christmas pageant season. The whole Christmas story is pretty crazy when you think about it. A man travels for six days with a very pregnant wife through the desert in order to report to his hometown because the government says so. Then, to top it off, when they finally arrive, the local inn is booked and all they have available is a manger. Baby Jesus, the Savior of the World, was born in a barn. His bassinet was a hay bail.

Two thousand years and some change later, you get to be born in a hospital. Your car seat weighs less than a sparrow and can deflect sniper bullets. You have it considerably easier than Baby Jesus, Blue.

As such, a Christmas pageant is a cleverly concealed torture session for children to remind them that Jesus had it way rougher. Churches all across the country are frantically choosing their one overeager girl to be Mary and then I’lldowhateverittakestoavoidwearingaturtleneck boy to be Joseph. The rest of the lot will fill out the standard menagerie of farm animals and bit characters: cows, sheeps, wise men, and shepherds.

Everyone else is in the choir. Which means you’re forced to sing Christmas carols and wear a supertight turtleneck and a sweater that is equal parts wool and sandpaper. It’s the same story every time. No one wants to be Joseph because he has the dreaded speaking lines, but that all changes once the pageant starts and you realize Joseph has it made. He says his lines and then gets to sit there, wearing a bathrobe. Meanwhile, you’ll stare jealously over at him, and wonder why you hadn’t been smarter and avoided discomfort by being proactive and volunteering instead of hoping no one picked you.

Word to the wise, Blue. Don’t be a chump. Go be Joseph.

Or you can attempt to play the trumpet. Which is what I did in the eighth grade. I absolutely wanted nothing to do with those speaking lines and when the opportunity arose to do something else, I jumped on it. Why not?

I was never very good at trumpet, but because I was in band and we’d played the title track to Jurassic Park at a concert one time, someone thought it’d be a good idea if some of us play Christmas songs during the pageant. I was on board because it meant I didn’t have to wear a stupid turtleneck, didn’t have to memorize any lines, and didn’t have to do anything but sit in the back like a rock star in the green room until it was time for our two songs. Two songs, and then we were out. Cheese and soda to follow in the lobby.

It was not a good idea.

Like athletes, musicians need time to warm up. You got to stretch your lip muscles, work your diaphragm, clear out all the spit in the pipes, and get all that brass good and trumpet-y with warm air. Not doing this is the equivalent of a football player walking out to the field directly from his car, putting on pads over his tracksuit and saying, “Put me in coach!” It’s not going to work.

So, because I was in the eighth grade, and because I knew how to play Jurassic Park, and because I was first chair for a brief period of time after I got lucky and hit an F on the top part of the scale during a test, I decided I was above warming up. No need. I’ll just go out there and rock it.

It was a disaster, Blue. We played Silent Night and O, Little Town of Bethlehem. I barely practiced these songs and I quickly discovered that in front of a full audience, they were way out of my league. Because I hadn’t warmed up, my mouthpiece was cold and I couldn’t hit anything above the middle of the scale. Every time I tried to go above a G, it sounded like a duck working out some constipation issues. When we got to the part that dealt with sleeping in heavenly peace, the sound I was emitting was more like an air raid siren with a dying battery. Quite the opposite of heavenly peace. It was the kind of bad that caused parents’ eyebrows to twitch every time I missed a note. I saw several people subtly reach for the mute buttons on their camcorders.

Afterwards, I learned that everyone, even devout churchgoers, are sinners. Several adults congratulated me and shook my hand. They told me, “You did a good job up there,” and all I could think of was the ten commandments and how the Bible says we shouldn’t lie.

That is my last memory of a Christmas pageant. While my resilient middle school psyche would recover from this in time, the embarrassment still lingers. If only I had said no when they asked me. I should have just admitted that I didn’t know the songs very well and that I didn’t think I could do it.

I can’t emphasize this enough, Blue. This applies to life just as much as it does to Christmas pageants. Don’t try to be cool and do more than you can handle. Know your limits and don’t let pride blind you. Also, don’t try to avoid the things you don’t want to do. Just be Joseph. And do what you must.

-Dad

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