It was Christmas Eve and Jane Appleby was leaning parched and harrowed, against the door of the village hall. Pint sized Shepards were trying to beat the living daylights out of each other with their crooks, Wise Men were shoving ‘frankincense’ up their noses in a bid to burn them off and the baby Jesus was currently missing a limb.Every year Jane got lumped with organising the nativity for the Christmas church service, perhaps because they thought she could deal with the tykes, seeing as she was the headmistress of the local primary school. She’d had nightmares of kings with no gifts and Joseph deciding to divorce Mary in the wake of her surprise pregnancy for months, and a permanent headache due to the extreme decibel at which the children shouted their lines. They hadn’t even rehearsed in the real performance space yet and Jane just wasn’t sure if the gold bejewelled manger was going to fit at the altar of the church. Wirey arms attached to a screaming pair of lungs wrapped around Jane’s legs, and she looked down to see the Virgin Mary (otherwise known as Ella Jenkins) wailing with her tea towel slipping off of her little head. “What’s wrong sweetheart?,” Jane asked wearily. “It’s Mickey! He hit my baby with his stick and now his arm has come off! HE’S KILLED MY LITTLE JESUS!” The little girl continued to cry as Jane looked over to see her lead Shepherd proudly swinging Jesus’ detached body part from the end of his crook, the little savage. She untangled Ella from herself and handed her over to her Mother, snatched the arm and the rest of Jesus from the very disturbed Shepherd and started to walk home, thinking of where her old glue gun might have got to.
Christmas Day was often associated with stress; the stress of cooking, presents and trying to keep Grandad away from the whiskey. However the Maplebottom church nativity was on a whole other stratosphere. Jane was nursing a hip flask full of Beroca, in the hopes that it would give her the much needed energy to struggle through the chaos of the day. Proud parents and grandparents filled the pews of the little church, murmuring to each other about how excited they were to see their little angels. ‘Backstage’ Jane had managed to get the children together in a ramshackle group, checking fake beards and adjusting tinsel halos. She looked at the children; some nervous, some excited, some currently trying to shove a toy sheep down their tunic with no success. Whatever happened out there, be it good or bad, Jane was proud of the cast. She had worked hard and the children, well, they had turned up at least. As a hush fell over the congregation, Jane nudged out Joseph and Mary and practically pushed Angel Gabriel out the door, Jane fell back onto her chair with sheer exhaustion. Now, time to contend with the turkey.