Which is exactly what the part calls for: Coldness. Aloofness. Indifference. Apathy.
You stand there with your arms crossed, looking ornery (and who wouldn’t be ornery? You’re standing there wearing your dad’s bathrobe and a towel on your head). It’s like you’re just waiting to bark at someone (especially if anyone makes a crack about the towel). Sure enough, along comes the handsome boy (why couldn’t I ever be the handsome boy?) and the cute girl with long dark hair (WHY COULDN’T I EVER BE THE HANDSOME BOY???) with the pillow stuffed under her robe to make her look . . . you know . . . “great with child.”
You are the Innkeeper, and they are coming to you for lodging. Your job in the pageant is to turn them away rudely, and to send them out into the stable to have their child. This I used to do with great flair, fixing the young couple with a steely glare, waving my arms wildly (“Oy vey! It’s the middle of the tourist season, and you think you can just walk in here and get a room? What do you think this is, Inn 6?”) and then pointing them toward the stable while the children’s chorus behind us sang “Away in a Manger.”
And then I would disappear. End of story. At least, it’s the end of the Innkeeper’s story.
Or is it?
Perhaps I grew too fond of the old boy by playing him for so many years, but I like to think of the Innkeeper wandering into the stable that first Christmas night. I see him hiding in the shadows, watching in wonder and awe as angels herald the birth of a king. I think of him joining the shepherds at the side of the manger, falling to his knees to worship and adore. And I imagine him leaving his stable Christmas morning a changed man—still big and intimidating-looking, but somehow kinder, gentler, and more compassionate.
And why not? One of things I’ve learned through fifty or so Christmases is that the spirit of Christmas is a redemptive spirit. And not just in a theological sense. Look at our favorite Christmas stories:
A miser is redeemed when ghostly visitors show him scenes from Christmases past, present, and future (or at least the future that will surely come if he doesn’t change his ways); a bankrupt building and loan owner is redeemed when an angel (second class) shows him how much different life would have been for the people he loves most if he hadn’t been born; a green Grinch is redeemed (and his heart grows three sizes) when Whos refuse to lose the Christmas spirit despite the disappearance of all of their gifts (including the roast beast); a red-nosed reindeer is redeemed when inclement weather forces a toy cartel to seek an alternate lighting source for its annual overnight distribution run.
Clearly, the anecdotal evidence suggests that Christmas is about redemption through change: changing ideas, changing perceptions, changing relationships, changing values. But mostly, it’s about changing self. And if that can apply to English misers, building and loan owners, green Grinches, and red-nosed reindeer, then surely it can apply to big, intimidating-looking Innkeepers.
And the people who play them.