Barnyard Basics: A Christmas story with a twist

We honor the tradition of the first Christmas with pictures and pageants depicting the birth of the Christ child, and the pictures and pageants are often as unique as the artists and performers.

Heather Smith Thomas

Christmas is the day we celebrate God’s greatest gift to mankind — the birth of Christ.

God’s Son came to live among us and show us the love that He has for us. The story of Christ’s birth is one of the most often-told stories in the Bible, and every year there are Nativity scenes and Christmas pageants that recreate this great story.

Many churches have a special program in which children re-enact the manger scene or the Christmas story of baby Jesus’ birth. About 35 years ago, however, one little boy put his own spin on that story and gave us all something to ponder.

His innovative enactment of his role in the local Christmas pageant was the focus of a short little story in the November 1982 issue of Readers Digest. My father mentioned this story in one of his Christmas sermons that year, at the Hillview United Methodist Church in Boise.

Wally was 9 years old but only in the second grade. He was what most people called “a little slow” — big for his age but clumsy and slow in movement and mind. He was easy-going and always smiling, even though some of the other children didn’t have much patience with him.

He wanted to be a shepherd in the Christmas pageant that year and play the shepherd’s flute, but the director gave him the role of innkeeper. The innkeeper didn’t have very many lines to learn, and Wally’s size would make his character more forceful in refusing Mary and Joseph a room at the inn.

The usual large audience was there for the annual performance, and from his position backstage, Wally watched in fascination as Joseph and Mary slowly approached the inn. Joseph was tenderly guiding Mary, then knocked hard on the wooden door of the painted stage set.

“What do you want?!” said Wally the innkeeper in a loud voice, swinging the door open.

“We seek lodging,” said Joseph.

“Seek it elsewhere! The inn is full!” said Wally.

“Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are weary,” answered Joseph.

“There is no room for you in this inn!” Wally looked straight ahead, very stern.

“Please, good innkeeper. This is my wife Mary. She is heavy with child. Surely you must have some small corner for her to rest,” said Joseph meekly.

Now, for the first time, the innkeeper looked down at Mary. There was a long pause — so long, that the audience began to grow tense and embarrassed for Wally, thinking he’d forgotten what he was supposed to say. The prompter backstage whispered, “No. Be gone,” and Wally repeated those lines.

Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary. She laid her head on his shoulder and the two of them started to move away. Wally stood in the doorway watching the forlorn couple, his mouth open and his brow creased in concern, and his eyes filling with tears.

Suddenly he called out, “Don’t go, Joseph! Bring Mary back!” He broke out in a huge smile and said, “You can have my room!”

A few people in the audience thought that Wally had ruined the pageant with his improvised change in the script, but most people thought it was the best Christmas pageant they had ever seen.

Compassion, and love for our neighbor, treating other people the way we’d want to be treated, are part of the directive that God’s Son gave to us as His followers, and young Wally gave a perfect illustration of this — in his own interpretation of what the Christmas story should have been.

Heather Smith Thomas and her husband raise beef cattle and horses on a ranch in the mountains near Salmon. To contact her or order her books — which include “Horse Tales,” “Cow Tales” and “Ranch Tales” — call 208-756-2841 or email