My little sister was an angel along with Joan Powers and Betty Egan. It was a choice part, because there were no lines to learn, and all they had to do was stand still and remember not to wave.

I was an angel as well with cardboard wings. I waved at my brother Jim, and he waved back. Billy Hagany, a friend of my brothers who was in high school then, was Joseph.

Mary had red hair and freckles, a combination not often seen in Nazareth. Baby Jesus was my sister’s doll that had eyes that opened and shut, a feature that frightened her.

Some names emerge from the fog: Red Garcia, Richard Carr and Bernard Desnoyer were the three kings. This I know only because of my sister’s better memory. Someone took a picture. I wish I had it now.

Mary looked pretty good for just having had a baby. None of us, of course, had any idea what having a baby entailed.

I saw my first real-life birth happen one rainy night in the back of a cab on the Golden Gate Bridge in 1955. My buddies and I, coming from our base, were in a Jeep right behind the cab, which was pulled over, the back door open, with two men leaning into the back seat where the mother was screaming.

As I was running up to help, the cabbie said to me, “Hold the door.” I did, and something happened that stayed with me for life.

We love the Nativity scenes. They’re often on Christmas cards and church calendars when they flip down to December.

On these, the Holy Family always looks clean with nice garments. Joseph, Yossef ben-Yaakov, wears brown. Mary, Miryam, wears blue and white.

The Three Kings, who probably weren’t even there, look like combinations of POTUS and Hugh Hefner, but with cuter outfits.

That night, that hour, that moment played out for Miryam and Yossef of Nazareth much as it has for young parents since the beginning of time and today.

It has been described by countless men, true believers all, that it was “a cave or a shed, a place carved out of rock.”

Other scholars say it was a room in the “ancestral” home, where “valued animals were fed, because the guest room was already occupied.”

Who can know? Anyone can write anything. What does it matter? It’s unlikely that it looked anything like the Christmas card on your mantle, the Bible, or the calendar. Hollywood tells us that when legend becomes fact, print the legend. Who then would dispute Hollywood?

They were there, we’re told over and over, because of King Herod, a monster who had killed his father-in-law, several of his 10 wives and two of his sons.

And it seems that this child from Nazareth haunted his sleep, and that was enough to put these pilgrims in jeopardy.

Yossef, it seems, was a simple carpenter, and such a trade, though useful, offered few perks to a young father.

New York Times writer Anita Gates tells us that “because she was poor, Miryam did not have a birthing stool, the choice of wealthy women at that time. She had a midwife and delivered standing up, leaning against the midwife’s assistants, who helped with the pushing by massaging Miryam’s abdomen.”

These women are nowhere to be seen in your average creche.

Yossef waited nervously outside.

Of course he did, as I, my father and yours, did the same. Any average first-time daddy would be nervous.

My Catholic soul has wandered back and forth from agnostic to total disbeliever and back again to this latest place.

I’ve read countless tellings of the story, seen creches in tiny churches and cathedrals from all over Asia to Maine since I played that angel and pondered all in the church basement on Minnesota Avenue.

I’m an old man now and sure of nothing. But the 9-year-old angel still alive in me still believes that on a cold night on a ridge near the edge of the Judaean Desert, 5 miles south of Jerusalem, something happened that would change the world for all time to come.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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