How it feels to be Phil

"From bird meat," the label reads
“From bird meat,” the label reads

My wife and I are Amazing Race fans, and we just did an Amazing Race themed Christmas party for our students. We called it the “Christmas Race” and teams had to perform a variety of tasks based on events from the Christmas story.

Events included dressing up like the Angel Gabriel and Mary, memorizing part of the annunciation, and reciting it before a judge. Abby and I are fluent English speakers and very familiar with that part of scripture, so it only took us about five minutes to memorize it. But I wasn’t sure how well our students would do since they have neither advantage. One of the leading teams managed to do it in ten minutes and the rest seemed to do reasonably well. But I couldn’t help smiling a bit each time I walked past an “angel” with a gold sash announcing in an utterly serious tone to one of my male students that he would “become pregnant have a baby boy.”

They also had to find a local store and buy the gifts of the magi: something gold (or gold-colored), something that smelled nice, and a spice. One student bought a tin of canned meat. The lid read “from bird meat.” The type of bird was eerily unspecified. As he handed it to me, I was hoping to God that this wasn’t supposed to be the thing that “smelled good.” I didn’t want to get into an argument about “smell is in the nose of the beholder.” I could just imagine him peeling back the lid and saying, “It smells good to me!” But as he pointed at the gold-colored label I breathed a sigh of relief and gave him his next task.

We enlisted five helpers because several of the tasks required a judge to determine if the task had been performed sufficiently well. A friend of ours from Australia judged the singing task: perform two verses from The First Noel, an old standby for many of us but totally new for our students. Toward the end of the competition he told me his ears were bleeding. I’m guessing next time he’ll inquire in more detail about his responsibilities before agreeing to help us. And I’m sure he’d love to hear The First Noel again sometime next decade.

Of course, when planning an event like this there are always factors you can’t control or predict. One activity included finding “Bethlehem” in our local park. I didn’t count on the fact that park officials would frown on our Bethlehem sign. Thankfully some tactful students talked him into letting use the park for the task even though we had to take the sign down. It was pouring rain, so I doubt any visitors to the park noticed or even cared as they hustled past.

I had the job of waiting at the “finish line” and judging the final task: put all the events of the Christmas story in the proper order. On the “real” Amazing Race, Phil does such a good job of saying, “Harry and Sally, I’m pleased to tell you that you are team number one!” It really is pretty thrilling, but I didn’t anticipate how hard it would be to break the news to the rest of the teams. We had only one cash prize, and although it was significantly smaller than the million-dollar prize on the real Amazing Race, all our teams put in a lot of hard work to get it. Second place won…well…nothing, so saying “You are team number two!” had a pretty hollow ring to it. 

The greatest reward, though, was watching our students pore over the Christmas story, memorize parts of it, act it out and come away having learned that the Messiah, the Lord, has been born.

Teams had to build a Chuppah (part of a Jewish wedding).
Teams had to build a Chuppah (part of a Jewish wedding).
The Angel Gabriel tells Mary she will bear the son of God.
The Angel Gabriel tells Mary she will bear the son of God.

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