Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The King Herod Play: The Story of a Polish Christmas

“What if I haven’t been good enough to receive gifts from St. Nicholas?” Lena Nowak said to herself on Christmas Eve morning. 

The 11-year-old girl in Bolków, Poland, rolled over in bed, wondering if she had fibbed too much or not worked hard enough in school. 

“Maybe I can put on a King Herod Play for St. Nicholas and his angel helper when they visit the house?” she asked, hoping that she still had time to contribute Christmas cheer to the special season. 

So, all day, Lena worked to make hand puppets for the characters of the traditional King Herod Play, a Christmas folk play.

“Dear, what are you doing?” her mother asked. “Your grandmother is always in charge of the King Herod Play.” 

“I polished my shoes yesterday, so I’ll leave them by the Christmas tree for gifts,” Lena said. “In case St. Nicholas comes in person, I want to put on a King Herod Play for him with my puppets. I’ll show you and Dad after dinner!”

All day, Lena worked on painting and gluing puppets, starting with the wicked King Herod, who caused the killing of boy infants in Bethlehem when he heard that a child would be born as Messiah. Other characters in the play included an angel, a soldier, a village man and his wife, a cavalryman with his horse, a Field Marshal, the Devil, Death, and gravediggers.

“The Herods are coming tonight!” Lena said, joking with her dad, as he watched her make a small stage in the house.

“The play is going to be fancy!” her father said. “I will set up chairs for everyone in the family, so we can enjoy it after Wigilia,” he said, which is the Polish Christmas Eve dinner with twelve dishes to commemorate the Twelve Apostles.

“Oh, no! I’ve run out of glue,” Lena said, as the last drop of glue dripped from the bottle. “What will I do now? Nothing I ever do is good enough. I try and try, but I just can’t ever get anything right. I can’t get glue from the store on Christmas Eve. St. Nicholas will never want to sit and listen to my play if things aren’t glued properly.” A tear ran down her cheek.

“I’ll finish as much as I can without the glue,” she said. “Then, maybe I’ll have to wait until next year to put on the play!”

She ran into her room and threw herself on the bed, crying. 

“Come eat some pierniki, apples, and oranges!” her mom invited. “Dinner is almost ready! I’m sure that St. Nicholas will love your puppets. It’s just glue. It will somehow stick together!”

During the evening, her grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbors, and friends gathered for Christmas Eve dinner. Lena lit a candle in the window, symbolizing the Christmas Star in the night sky, lighting the way for Jesus. She hung sparklers on the family Christmas tree, adding extra “little stars” as Christmas Eve decorations.

As she looked at her puppets, sitting next to the Christmas tree, she wished that she had enough glue to finish the project. Despite all, she broke the oplatek Christmas wafers at dinner, and then ate as much as her tummy could hold. She enjoyed the beetroot soup, Polish Christmas carp, herrings, pierogi, sauerkraut, cabbage rolls, kutia, and Polish piernik gingbread. 

By the time dinner was finished, there was a sudden knock on the door, and the children cheered: “He has come!” In shame, Lena ran into the corner and cried, because she thought St. Nicholas would surely overlook her efforts. 

“Merry Christmas!” St. Nicholas cheered, walking past everyone else in the home straight to Lena with his filled sack. His angel helper stood by the door with more gifts, waiting for the perfect moment to give everyone their reward. 

“I’ve heard that you need glue to finish your King Herod Play,” St. Nicholas said, handing her a new jar of glue. “Now, while I hand out the rest of the gifts, why don’t you finish the puppets, and then we’ll enjoy your production?”

“Yes, sir,” Lena said, throwing her arms around him and drying her eyes on his long white beard and red jacket.

By the time everyone else had received their gifts, Lena had finished gluing the last touches of her puppets and stage. 

“Time for the King Herod Play!” she said. “Everyone, take a seat! St. Nicholas you may sit in the front with your angel.” 

The tenderness of the Christmas drama from the heart of the child warmed everyone in the room, including St. Nick. As the play finished, her family and friends were filled with Christmas cheer and amazed at Lena’s talents and abilities. 

“Did you do all this by yourself?” St. Nicholas said. “I’ve never seen such a wonderful Christmas play by a child!”

Then he handed her a large sewing kit to make costumes for upcoming plays and books about the ancient Greek theater. 

“Thank you so much!” Lena said. “I’ll put on an even better Christmas play next year. This is only the beginning!”

Then St. Nicholas gathered his things, promising to return for each of her plays, expecting to be featured in them. 

“Oh, my darling, I think I gave you a selfish Christmas gift! Next year, I would love to have the central role on the stage!” he joked, handing hand-blown Christmas tree ornaments to Lena and her family as he walked out the door with his angel. 

“Until next time,” St. Nick chuckled, “Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia!

Copyright 2016 Jennifer Waters 


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