’Twas the week before Christmas when I got a splinter in my eye that nearly ruined everything. I was seven years old and all set to be Wise Man No. 1 in the annual church Christmas play the next day.
What first felt like a pesky eyelash soon began to feel like a fence post jabbing at my eye. I rubbed, blinked, cried. Nothing worked. That night, it woke me from a deep sleep.
The morning before the show, my mother took me to the doctor who ordered me to lie down on a table. Then he turned my eyelid inside out for a better look.
His eyes widened and he quickly said, “My God … nurse, come look at this.” I panicked. I felt like a science experiment gone wrong. My mother was sure I was either going blind or dying or both.
The “foreign object” (fancy doctor term for splinter) had left an impressive number of eye scratches, so the doctor covered half my face with a huge eye patch. I thought the patch was pretty cool until I remembered my approaching stage debut. How could I go on as Wise Man No. 1 looking like I’d just survived a bad camel crash?
The doctor said it was fine to go on with the show, telling my mother I might be a little clumsy while adjusting to the patch.
There weren’t enough kids in the church to find a replacement, so my mother said we’d tell people a desert storm blew sand in my eye on the way to see Baby Jesus. That evening, I put on my robes and headed for church.
With the candlelight service set to begin, I lined up right behind the Angels on High and prepared for the procession down the church aisle toward our cardboard stable. Some of the older kids playing Mary and Joseph had already taken their places by the manger in front of the pulpit.
The pianist started playing “Silent Night,” which was our cue to start down the aisle carrying lit candles. It was all going well until I smelled smoke.
In my haste to get down the aisle, I got my candle a little too close to the lacy wings of Angel No. 3 right in front of me. My depth perception was off because of the patch.
A church deacon spotted the trouble as we passed his pew and he quickly grabbed the angel and started beating her smoldering wings. Angel No. 3 didn’t realize her wings had been ignited, so the beating felt more like an assault. The procession of angels and wise men came to a thudding halt.
After Angel No. 3 was thoroughly checked out by her mother, our Sunday school teacher decided we should begin the procession again in a desperate attempt to save the remainder of the play.
Angel No. 3, with her charred wings, was promoted to the front of the line so she wouldn’t have to stand near me, the half-blind Wise Man who nearly torched her the first time. And my mother blew my candle out before I started down the aisle again, just to be on the safe side.
The second procession attempt went perfectly, and we made it to the manger just fine. The narrator was wrapping up when my friend, Wise Man No. 2, started to look pale and shaky. She’d always been the kind of kid who got sick when she was nervous, and I guess the flaming angel incident combined with stage fright took its toll on her stomach.
She dropped her myrrh, covered her mouth for a moment and then brushed me aside as she attempted to leave the stage. She made it as far as the manger and then threw up all over everything, including the Rub-A-Dub doll that was being used as Baby Jesus.
Mary and Joseph turned as white as the fake sheep, and the narrator quickly ended the play by saying, “We hope you’ve enjoyed our play.” The audience didn’t know whether to clap, laugh or call emergency medical personnel.
It’s been more than 20 years since that Christmas play, and it’s still one of the most memorable in church history — the half-blind wise man, the flaming angel and the wise man who tossed her cookies in the manger.
There will never be another Christmas play quite like it.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. This column was originally published in 1999. Her book is available on Amazon.