Preparations for the Crib Service began a couple of weeks beforehand with a gathering of ladies who cut out a great many card crowns, donkeys, sheep and stars, whilst being plied with cups of tea and mince pies by our hostess.  Each shape then had a hole punched into it for Christmas ribbon to be threaded through so they could be hung on a Christmas tree later.  As people arrived for the service they were given a little battery candle, together with the shapes which they were encouraged to wave during the appropriate carol.

On Christmas Eve at about 3.15pm some very excited little children began arriving in the Meeting Room.  Costumes were laid out on nineteen chairs, each with a child’s name.  It was all very organised except that I had managed to label a shepherd’s costume for a non-existent child, which was interesting.  One three-year-old boy arrived announcing that he wanted to be a donkey.  He agreed to dress up if he was able to carry the donkey and so a new role of donkey owner was quickly invented and he travelled around the church in front of Mary and Joseph.  The children were very cooperative and did what was asked of them without argument or tantrums, which was a great relief to me.  From my position in the front Lady Chapel pew I couldn’t see the tableau as it built up but there were two people in the Chancel to make sure all was well.  I later learnt that there had been a little activity amongst the Kings and one of the gifts had to be removed to a place of safety.  Also at the end of the service I discovered that the baby Jesus had been completely released from his shawl, thus exposing ‘his’ knitted vest, knickers and blonde hair.  This year, for the first time, I had been invited to give the short talk and to my astonishment at the end I received a round of applause.  This was a great surprise but I felt very encouraged to know that what I said had been appreciated.  Perhaps in future we should applaud sermons if we feel they are particularly good – but then again perhaps not!

During the service the lights were dimmed so the little candles could be seen to their full effect and everyone was encouraged to take these home and think about taking a little of God’s light into the world.

It would be impossible for me to cope with all these children without the cooperation of their parents and the invaluable support given by my stalwart helpers and to all of them I give my heartfelt thanks.  Many people are involved in the annual Crib Service and it’s only as a team that it happens, so thank you to everyone concerned.

Hilary Burtonshaw