No one knew when it had started. Or why. But everyone suspected who…and that’s why no one attempted to change it.
We called it “The Martian Nativity.”
In my church—which I dearly loved—we kept a closet of Christmas decorations. Only the Lord and possibly a retired custodian knew how long some of those items had been there for…or from whence they had come. Deep in the recesses resided Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus. They seemed like perfectly normal lawn ornaments: a dull plastic, hollow for illumination, and who knows how old. Every Christmas they were automatically propped front and center on the elevated platform, from the week after Thanksgiving until somewhere after the new year.
Their shining moment was the Christmas Eve candlelight service. You could always count on three things for the service: there’d be five carols, some wax would inevitably drip on the pews, and Mary, Joseph, and Jesus would shine above all in a lovely green hue.
Yes, green. And not a pretty green either. A Kermit green radiating through blank features. No eyes, just verdant orbs, the same color as the rest of their bodies.
My favorite part of the service was when everyone left and we unplugged the figures. Suddenly Mary went from martian to maternal. Joseph went from mutant to a rather pale fellow. The figure of Jesus in the manger went from a glowing mound to the color of a Precious Moments doll.
“Why do we have to light them up every service?” I often wondered. When the figures were unlit, we almost looked like a normal church.
I often wondered what visitors thought of our crowning holiday centerpiece. Did they wonder if we were some type of alien worshipers? That our church had roots in Roswell? Did everyone in town know us as the Church of the Green Nativity?
None of us church members ever said a thing about the Verdant Family from Venus. It was just expected that whoever put out decorations each year would put them front and center. Every year, I’d notice some extra garland and props around the figures, but there was no distracting from that green.
Then one year, I had an idea. My new position in the church office gave me the nerve I hadn’t had in prior years. And the fact that I was a handyman’s daughter.
Naomi, the woman we respected but also suspected of starting the green tradition, chose to decorate one day while I was in the office. Christmas music radiated from the sanctuary. I was hurrying with my work so I could help her. Finally, I yanked open the double doors. The verdant family was scattered across the stage, unplugged, unposed.
My chance had come. Decades of church history had bottlenecked to this moment.
“I’ll do the nativity scene, Naomi,” I called. From somewhere under a moving tangle of garland, I heard, “Thank you, dear.”
Immediately, I grabbed Joseph and turned him on his head.
In minutes, the verdant family was void of wiring and I had three green light bulbs in hand.
“That’s why they glow green!” I said, holding a light bulb up like Gollum when he’d finally gotten his hand on the ring. (Part of me also felt like Boromir, marveling, “It’s a strange thing that we should suffer so much for so small a thing.”) Then I murmured, “Why? Why would someone put green in them?”
Naomi looked over my shoulder at the perpetrating bulb. Immediately, I regretted what I’d said, wondering if she’d heard.
Turned out, she did.
“I don’t know who thought that was a good idea,” Naomi said.
My stiffness eased. “Then you don’t mind if I go find some regular light bulbs!”
Off I sprinted for the utility closet. In five minutes, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were restored to almost human representation. When the office staff gathered to admire the sanctuary’s decorations later that afternoon, we all felt as if we’d turned a corner in church history. It was a new era. A new light had dawned.
By the next time I was at church, word had spread. I had people taking me aside by the elbow and whispering, “Thank you!”
“My pleasure,” I said, grinning. They never knew that the person they thought was insistent on green was just as glad as we were to have it gone.
Like Roswell itself, the history of the ghastly glow remains unexplained. But the nativity’s future is bright, because I made sure no one could use the same green bulbs ever again.
“Merry Christmas to all,” I said from within the utility closet, “and to all a clear light!”