Underneath my Christmas tree is a manger scene complete with Mary, Joseph, a baby in a manger, the donkey, the three wise men and a camel. Missing, though, is the llama. Llama you say?
A very important part of my Christmas, particularly Christmas Eve is a llama.
About a dozen years ago, the church I attend had a new minister with a new idea. At his previous church there had been a Christmas Eve pageant telling the Christmas story in words and music complete with animals. The idea was to begin the tradition at our church, The First Baptist Church of Greater Cleveland (American Baptist, not evangelical). At first, the idea was met with skepticism. A senior minister felt that animals shouldn’t be in the sanctuary of a church. I begged to differ since Christ was born in a stable and swaddled in a manger. I was on the planning committee. One of my roles was securing the animals. I found a rescue organization willing to participate. At the time, their only camel was too big to fit through the sanctuary doors and they suggested a llama. It was decided that Mary and Joseph would lead the donkey, the shepherds, the goats, sheep, and other creatures, and the llama would precede the three kings. For some reason, people are afraid of llamas, especially full grown, two-year-old male llamas. Thus, I volunteered and leading the llama has become my annual tradition.
Being a professional Middle Eastern dancer has made the experience all the more interesting. The king’s attendants wear embellished old choir robes and loads of jewelry. I sewed velvet additions to my costume enhanced with a coin hip scarf and coin jewelry plus dance make-up. As the lead attendant (ie: harem girl). I dance down the aisle with the llama. The llama has become a star and we are in many home videos and photo albums. The event is standing room only. The children sit in wide-eyed glee. Families continue to come every year. Many are from other denominations and religions just to see the show. A tradition was born.
I have learned a great deal about llamas through the years. Contrary to what some think, I do not own a llama or a farm. Two-year-old males are full of themselves and it takes strength and patience to control them. When you have two llamas, there is a racing competition to see who gets the lead. Toddler llamas can be stubborn and will stop in the middle of the aisle, sit, and refuse to move. A nudge with the foot under their rump, I found, gets them up and moving. Baby llamas need to be carried and look huge because of their fluffy fur but are actually a manageable 25 pounds. Lately, I’ve had four-month old llamas and they are like curious pet dogs. I’ve only had one llama spit but that was at a bright light fixture and I couldn’t blame him.
Llamas are gentle creatures. However, they are strong and can be fierce. Often, shepherds will have two of them to guard their flock from coyotes and wolves. Wolves and coyotes fear llamas because they will swiftly kick them to death for invading their space. Llamas are pack animals from the Andes. They cannot be ridden, as their backs do have the strength of horses or donkeys.
Through the years, leading the llama has been a fun part of Christmas. The animals now come from another rescue, the loving Stump Hill Farms. The performance now includes a camel. She stands majestically in the front of the sanctuary (brought in from wide side doors). I am now leading the third generation of llamas. Being a “llama mama” has been a joy. I am looking forward to greeting another llama this year.
The llama, however, is only a small part of a splendorous event. The words, music, drama and the spectacle of the pageant make it a special Christmas Eve. However, the baby is the star and the “reason for the season.”