I know it's the holidays when neighbors gather to celebrate the season. I've been lucky to live in friendly neighborhoods most of my life. Growing up on 24th Avenue, every December Mrs. Higgins directed a nativity pageant with the kids on our block. Afterwards parents, actors, and older neighbors sang Christmas carols and enjoyed hot chocolate and cookies. One year was especially memorable. A yellowed newspaper clipping jogs my memory. A photo and article about our pageant ran on the society page of the Dec. 22, 1960, edition of the Spokane Daily Chronicle.

That year I got to play Mary. In the photo I am kneeling beside the manger, my hands folded in prayer. Across from me is my big brother Jim, as Joseph. Behind us stand the angels, neighbor girls draped in white sheets, halos on their heads. Seated around us are the boys, shepherds dressed in bathrobes and holding staffs, Stevie Higgins and my brother Matt among them. The three kings are there, too. My brother John's crown is rakishly perched on his head.

Years later I recreated the Christmas pageant with our children and family friends in Alaska. Family videos and photos reveal a similar joy to my childhood. Away from shopping and holiday cards for one evening, we had such fun.

My thoughts about the nativity have evolved over the years. But no matter one's faith tradition, I believe it is a gift, a story of hope. A baby bringing peace, a brave young mother and a devoted husband, stars and shepherds, singing angels and kings bearing gifts.

Nowadays, my husband and I celebrate by gathering on the Solstice with our neighbors, sharing good food and filled with gratitude for their generous and friendly spirits.

My Christmas wish for Spokane? Community, good will, and peace on earth. ♦

Claire Rudolf Murphy is the author of 18 award-winning fiction and nonfiction books for children and young adults.

Spokane Jewish Cultural Film Festival @ Gonzaga University Jepson Center

Through Feb. 5
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