It’s the first week in December, and the cultural hall is filled with Christmas trees and display tables. There are nativity scenes of all shapes and sizes, sitting on richly colored table cloths. There’s music coming from the chapel. The hallways are echoing with children’s voices as they skip the main displays to find the craft-activity room and the refreshment room.
A quartet finishes singing “O, Holy Night” before a school-aged boy takes a seat at the piano. Most people from the pews have stood up and moved to the aisle to compliment the members of the quartet. For those straining to hear the pianist, “Silent Night” contains a few additional notes in some spots and lacks notes in others. On the front row, a set of grandparents sit with eyes fixed on the little pianist. As he pauses to find his place on the music, the boy turns to smile at them.
In the craft room, teen girls are helping toddlers dress up as angels and shepherds for a free photo. One of the toddlers wants to wear wings and hold a shepherd’s staff. After a while, the teen stops taking the staff out of the little angel’s hand, pats her on the head, and takes the picture.
In the refreshment room, a woman runs into the room with a plastic shopping bag. She explains that her supervisor asked her to work extra hours because another employee called in sick. The woman in charge of the refreshments turns her back while others greet the newcomer. She then furtively pushes her homemade cookies off of a silver platter and onto paper plates. “Thank you for helping with tonight’s event!” she says as she presents the now-empty platter.
Two ushers in the hall see a long-standing member come in by himself. His wife has passed away recently, and she used to organize the music. The older usher asks if he can take his coat. The gentleman prefers to hang it up himself. They walk to the coat rack together. As they move away from the foyer, the older usher glances over his shoulder to the younger one, nodding a wordless, “You’re in charge now.” The two men stand by the coat racks for nearly an hour, talking about the man’s grown children and his plans to spend Christmas with one of his sons who lives in St. Louis.
One of the visitors is moving through the cultural hall in a motorized scooter, and many of the tablecloths are fanned on the floor at the corners. A few of the docents freeze and hold their breath. Another docent leaves her station to introduce herself to the visitor. The docent walks ahead, focused intently on talking with the woman while casually kicking the beautifully draped tablecloth corners so that they are pushed under the tables. After they finish touring the room, the docent moves with the visitor to the refreshment room and introduces her to two other women who are also done looking at the displays.
Throughout the cultural hall, there’s a lot of chatter about which sets are imported, which are the rarest, which are the most expensive, and who in the stake owns the most sets. A woman with grown children is kneeling on the floor next to four sets of rough-cut rectangular wooden blocks. To passersby these blocks look like an unassembled stable that failed to make it to the display table. They are colored chaotically with markers. Even without picking them up to look for the scrawled initials, the woman kneeling knows which child decorated the blocks to represent Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.