Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I Know What the Shepherds Felt Like

As I set up our Nativity scene each year, I stop and think about each figure as I place it. I usually smile when I think about the shepherds who were watching their flocks by night when the heavenly host appeared in the brightly illuminated sky. I know exactly how that stunned them. How could that be? It's what my earliest memories of Christmas are like.

The bright lights part.

My father could do so many things and had taught himself a great deal about photography. He was an especially talented videographer, to use today's term. Our family movies stand the test of time in both quality and subjects. Daddy was good at taking movies.

What family doesn't take photos at Christmas, and nowadays, videos? We have a treasure trove of Christmas movies. These were not, however, completely spontaneous.

After I was in bed (I'm the oldest child, so I have a few solo Christmases to recall), my father set up his big flood lights in the living room, carefully positioning them so as to catch my face when I toddled down the hallway and saw what Santa had brought. He also set up his Bolex movie camera on its tripod, loaded with new film, ready to roll. All that was necessary was that he should get in position before I slipped out of my bed and ran into the living room un-photographed.

He and my mother must have slept very lightly on Christmas Eves!

Usually my mother intercepted me, and held me up long enough for my father to get in place and fire up the lights and the camera. (I can remember later Christmases when she had to physically restrain all three of us children, blocking the doorway to the living room!) My Christmases truly began with "Lights! Camera! Action". As I approached the living room, I remember the absolutely blinding light from those floods. When I watch those movies, I can only laugh at that dazed, squinting, confused little girl who had to hold her hands up to block out the brightness so she could see her presents.

Once I was in the room, the lights didn't bother me and I could focus on my stocking and my toys. My father continued to film me for awhile, and then shut off the camera AND the lights. The world returned to normal.

This approach to filming Christmas continued for ten years, so that we also have movies showing my sister and I being dazzled by the lights, followed later by my sister and brother and I staggering into the living room, overcome by light. Definitely a theme running through our Christmas movies.

The advent (pardon the pun) of new video technology eliminated the need for those bright floodlights. Super 8 movie cameras, followed by huge video cameras, and then more video cameras opened up vast new possibilities for my father's film making talents. Christmas now had gentler video coverage but I had left the shepherds behind.

Nevertheless, I can still understand how bright lights can overwhelm an unsuspecting person, rendering her confused, unsteady on her feet, and in need of some guidance. Sounds a bit like what struck the shepherds 'in fields as they lay' on Christmas, doesn't it?

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