One of the greatest things I love about my Jack and Jill of America family is the ability to expose my daughter to different cultural and historical events. So I was excited about them asking her to dress as Mary in the Langston Hughes nativity scene on the Christmas Parade float. Now, please understand that this was a learning curve for me. Somewhat embarrassed to say, I was unfamiliar with the Langston Hughes nativity scene. Langston Hughes, the poet and playwright…yes, a special nativity scene; not so much. Thank God for Google.
So here’s what I learned, the Black Nativity is a retelling of the classic Nativity story with an entirely black cast that was first performed off-broadway on December 11, 1961. It was full of traditional gospel Christmas carols, and was one of the first plays written by an African-American to be staged there.
Our local Jack and Jill of America teen group decorated the float and we were instructed to dress children according to the characters and mothers to wear traditional African American clothes. Now, at just 3-years-old, my daughter has only seen two parades. I mean the way I see it, she has a lot more living to do. The way she sees it, she is late coming to the parade party.
“I never been in a parade before,” she reminds me. “I’m so excited.” Her excitement preceded her knowledge of wearing a special costume. Like most toddlers her age, dress up of any kind is the “bees knees.” She loves it. “Morgan, would you like to play Mary on the parade float Saturday?” “Who’s Mary?” I make a note to myself to tighten up on making it to Sunday school and remind her that she was Jesus’ mother. She then asks “do I get to dress up?” When I tell her there’s a costume she jumps in the air and I guess by her reaction she’s down for whatever.
When her costume arrives, she asks to try it on and as I suspect it’s about two sizes too big. She’s so tiny so in true momma fashion I stay up late the night before with needle and thread making intro to sewing adjustments. I also find a baby doll and wrap it up in a white blanket and introduced him as “Baby Jesus.” I explain that she is a mommy and she has to keep him warm and safe while we are on the float. She assures me that I have given her a menial task and she’s got it and will be in character at the appropriate time.
When we board the float, she is assigned a spot at the front and is told which one of her friends is portraying Joseph. “Who’s Joseph?” she asks and once again I am reminded to set the alarm clock early enough to make Sunday school. “He was Jesus’ dad on earth,” I respond. I remind her to wave, to smile and to keep “Jesus” with her at all times.
As soon as the float starts to move, she throws Jesus on the floor and in true diva fashion stands up, uses both hands to wave to both sides of the crowd, throws candy, blows kisses and shouts Merry Christmas to parade goers. I remind her about being Mary and ask her where baby Jesus is? “He’s on the floor, because Joseph wouldn’t take a turn holding him,” she says. “But don’t worry mommy, he’s okay. God is taking care of him, I promise.”
And in between chuckles, I too make a series of promises. I promise to remember her excitement and joy when she experiences something new. I promise to be there for as many of those moments for her as I possibly can and Lord have mercy, I have got to get my baby to Sunday school.