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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

When You Break the Rules (and maybe it’s OK)

Another true tale from the Ridge

We were given one instruction only: Do not look at the cars.

Stay in character.


But I confess before God and y’all as my witnesses that I could not even do that. One simple request, and I failed to keep it.

It was late on a December night just prior to this Christmas past.

With folks skittish about crowding into sanctuaries during a disease-ridden season, our church planned a weekend “Drive Through Nativity” instead. Eight scenes depicting the Incarnation were carefully constructed so families could drive through the church parking lot, stopping in front of each tableau to listen to the Christmas story unfold over their car radio.

Sets were built, costumes assembled, actors recruited. Camels currently being in short supply in western North Carolina, sheep, goats, and alpacas were borrowed from neighboring farms.

The teenager who was to have portrayed Mary was suddenly unavailable, and an urgent text came.

Maggie, can you do it? You’ve already got a costume!”

I never could say no to Mary.

With woolen underwear, a vest, and a down jacket layered underneath my blue robe, the mother of Jesus waddled out resembling a first-century linebacker. And then there was Don, the jovial church member also in his late 60’s who was to portray Joseph.

“Y’all look more like Abraham and Sarah than Joseph and Mary!” a shepherd chortled cheerfully.

It got worse.

The event organizer tripped over power cords used to light the scenes and sprained her ankle.

The alpacas spat at anyone who got close.

Joseph joked and the wise men cracked up. One lost her crown.

Rain began to fall and drivers switched on their wipers, the better to peer through their windshields at the sodden Holy Family. I cradled a wet doll in my arms, using my veil to try to keep its little plastic face dry.

It was like that story about the best Christmas pageant ever, adult version.

Lord help us, I thought. We’re trying to recreate the most amazing event in history, but we must look ridiculous. What if the passengers in those cars rolling by are laughing at us?

But shivering on my bale of hay two hours into the tableau, the weight of the doll-Jesus in my arms, I remembered.

His birth was messy, too – nothing like the serene manger scene on the Christmas cards. Maybe passersby mocked the young family who had nowhere to birth their young but a cave meant for sheltering livestock.

And as I held the baby in my arms, I saw the face of my own infant granddaughter, Jane, whose journey to birth five months ago was so fraught with peril.

I hugged the doll a bit closer, shielding it from the elements.

As the stream of cars began to slow, the rain finally stopped, and a full moon shone over the Blue Ridge Mountains. I looked up, pointed, and the wise men surrounding us followed my gaze. The scene was suddenly bathed in light, and our little band of actors fell silent.

A long break between visitors, and then a battered old sedan pulled up, slowed, stopped in front of us.

I could almost feel the stares.

But then a tiny voice, and another, and another called out from the dark confines of the car.

“We love you, Jesus!” the children trilled. “We love you so much!”

It must have started to rain again - I needed my veil to wipe moisture off my face.

Oddly, it tasted like salt.

And I couldn’t help it, y’all. I had to break the rule – the one thing we were told not to do.

As that last car began to pull away, I held Jesus up to be admired, and I blew the children a kiss.

Somehow, I don’t think Mary would have minded that at all.

(c) 2022 Maggie Wallem Rowe



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