Tableaux Vivant

In my church, it is a tradition to celebrate the Christmas season by presenting the Christmas story in tableaux vivant or “living pictures” as part of a special worship service.

I have performed in these tableaux almost every year since I was a young child. I’ve been a towns person going to Bethlehem to be registered. I’ve been an angel sharing the good news of the Lord’s birth with the shepherds. I’ve been a shepherd, trying not to weep while singing “Mary, Did You Know?” as the congregation filed up onto the chancel to get a closer look at a powerful, living representation of the nativity. And as newlyweds, my husband and I played Joseph and Mary, regular people who were chosen and also chose to be a part of the most beautiful story to take place in this weary world.

This weekend I played a new role in Christmas tableaux: director.

I spent the last month selecting passages from the Word, fiddling with staging, recruiting volunteers to perform, and selecting favorite hymns for transition music. We spent the last week rehearsing and tweaking lights and cues. Yesterday, it all came together successfully. People keep thanking me for directing. But it honestly didn’t feel like work. It was a gift.

We’ve lived in Toronto for nearly 6 months now. The people here are warm and welcoming. Our new house is a cozy and happy place to inhabit. There are lots of perks to living on the fringe of a bustling, culturally thriving city. We’re developing connections and routines–all of the things that make a place feel like home.

But of course, it’s still new and I still feel homesick for my small town in Pennsylvania. Things couldn’t be going better here, but I still ache for the familiarity and simplicity of the place I grew up in and the people who made it home. It’s been especially difficult with Christmas approaching and realizing with deep pangs that the traditions in my hometown are going on. Without me.

I needed tableaux this year more than ever. Not only did I get to be a part of tableaux, a tradition that has always helped me get into the Christmas spirit, but I got to implement my vision for the service. It was not my hometown version. It was not exactly like other tableaux services that have been done here in Toronto either. It was new. It was a combination of traditions from my old home and my new home. It was an opportunity to be more myself than I have been in a while. Because I have finally realized that I am a product of many places and people. Where I’ve been and where I am now. They are indistinguishable. They are me. And in a way, this tableaux service was me too.

And the outpouring of positive feedback I received after the service means more to me than I can adequately express. It was acceptance. It was validation. It was appreciation for my interests and creativity, making me feel as though I really have a use to serve here. So I will say again, that directing tableaux was not a chore. It was a gift.

Creatively combining my traditions into this special service was just what I needed to start feeling at home here. Not just in this place, but at this time. I may very well direct tableaux here again next year. But they will be different. Because I will be different. The people volunteering in them will be different. The sense of tradition will be different. Really, just about everything will be different.

And that’s the beauty of living pictures. They change. They breathe. And they remind us more than any two-dimensional snapshot that these timeless stories are a reflection of us and of our lives. The story line might not change. But the part we play in it can and always will.

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6 thoughts on “Tableaux Vivant

  1. Justine – I’m just now reading your blog and really enjoyed this post. I empathize with all of the feelings you describe here – from deep homesickness to deep gratitude. Thanks for sharing this.

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