The other thing we did was ask ward members A-L to bring a potato side dish and provided the recipe for Cheesy Potluck Potatoes that Ginny Miller gave me a few years ago. It is such a great recipe and I debated whether it was pretentious to ask people to make my potato recipe and not leave it open ended, but I was hoping for consistency and the only way to get close to that is to provide the same recipe to everybody. Most people used it and their potatoes turned out great and everybody said how much they loved them, which made me really glad because I know that the go-to standard at these kind of functions is usually the "funeral potato" dish, but I feel like those so often turn out bland. The green onions and parboiled chunks of yukon gold potatoes in Ginny Miller's recipe take the cheesy potato dish in a more flavorful direction, in my opinion. Anyway, we also asked families M-Z to bring a dessert that was chocolate, mint, or both, again hoping for a sort of consistent dessert table by giving guidance while still leaving it open to interpretation. This was the one area where my planning fell short - we didn't have nearly enough dessert. I don't know if alphabetically our ward is just front-loaded or what, but the dessert went super fast. Next time I think I would take a similar approach but supplement by asking a few specific families to bring additional dessert as backup, even just something like trays of mint brownies that would make up for any shortage of dessert. But the table sure looked pretty in dark chocolate cookies and brownies or frosted white cupcakes and peppermint striped goodies. So the dessert table looked every bit as beautiful as things tasted.
For this particular ward building, we maxed out the tables and chairs by using every single one that was under the stage and it just met our need with the approximately 250 people who came. I didn't do a "themed" dinner or anything and just went with red and white alternating plastic table cloths using rolls of plastic covering instead of individual table cloths (so glad we went this route). Then down the white tables we laid clippings of pine branches that I picked up for free from a local Christmas tree lot and those electric flickering candles that you can get at Costco. For the red tables, we laid red and silver ornaments and small packages and baubles that were in a couple of boxes in the storage sheds. They weren't fancy or complicated as table decor goes, but they were free and prettied things up quite nicely, I thought. Then for the stage I used 2 rolls of wide sparkly mesh stuff to gussy it up and brought my 4 poinsettias (and had 2 from a friend) to go in front of the screen for the program to provide kind of a focal area. I wish we could have strung lights or hung snowflakes or something overhead but the amount of work and stress involved in that turned out to be just too much.
For the program, we did a silhouette puppet light show that I remembered from my childhood. When I was little, I remember my dad building a light box for my mom with white fabric and a light behind it that she then used with figures attached to wooden dowels which, when pressed against the fabric with the light shining behind them, created a dark silhouette. A short, rhyming account of the nativity story was told from both the perspective of the Bible and the Book of Mormon, accompanied by music. It was something she found in the 1988 Friend magazine and I think she was Primary president at the time and did it for a sharing time. It was so moving for me that I still remember how beautiful and magical it was, all these years later. I remember wanting to help with the puppets and asking to perform it over and over, for at least a few years in a row. So I immediately knew what I wanted to do for a program this time around, only I didn't know if I could make it work on a large scale because my mom's light box was very small. But then I came up with the idea of using a photography frame and stretching a queen size white sheet across it for a scrim and cutting out much larger shapes by taking the original images to a copy center and having them blown up as cutting guides before sticking them onto really sturdy cardboard and cutting them out with an exacto knife. Paul was a lifesaver through all of this - not complaining about my vision and instead helping me to figure out how to make it work by pulling out his work lights and setting up frames and doing at least half of the cutting for me. And when it came to the show he helped out behind stage, directing the puppeteers and filling in as a third puppeteer for the final nativity scene where a few extra hands were needed to hold up all the pieces. And I chose a few ward members to help with the program as readers (2 adults and 2 children) and just did congregational singing instead of musical numbers.
I wish I had a picture when the program was happening. We turned off all the lights except for the candles on the table and the twinkly lights lining the stage and with the glowing screen there was plenty of light to see by. Nobody really knew what was coming and we started with music and the speaking parts but man, as soon as that first silhouette went up, the hall went silent. I mean, every single primary age kid was riveted to what was happening. Because it is so different and unusual and low tech and magical and simple all at once! Since I was up front leading the music during the singing parts, I could watch the audience reacting and I was so pleased with how well it went over. And it was a good length, I think, at only about 10 minutes, which seemed to fly by. In fact, I think I should have timed it out beforehand because it probably could have gone on a little bit longer. Afterwards a friend mentioned that her kids were asking her "how did they do that?" at the same time as another family's kids were asking the same thing and they just told them, "magic". The link to the program in the original Friend is here: https://www.lds.org/friend/1988/12/sharing-time-two-witnesses-of-jesus-birth?lang=eng&query=babe.
I had great help getting things ready to go - from the people who showed up Saturday morning and helped arrange tables and chairs and put out decorations (took about 2 1/2 hours), to the high priests who worked in the kitchen carving brisket as it arrived and serving it from behind the serving tables once the dinner started, to the family who handled the Santa area, letting one family in at a time so that the kids could have a more quiet, personal visit with Mr. Claus. That is another thing I would change for future years - we started visits with Santa at 5:30, expecting to do dinner at 6:00, but the line was so long that even with short visits we needed more than 30 minutes. Next year I would start that 45 minutes in advance, or do it afterwards, although personally I think it worked out well to get that out of the way first.
The ward has a Santa costume in the activities cupboard and my visiting teaching companion's husband agreed to be Santa for us. Another cool thing that we found in the shed was a giganitic wooden fireplace prop that Paul and I carried in (barely - it was really heavy and bulky!) and set up in the primary room, along with another Christmas tree we found in the shed and our stockings from home to create a little backdrop. Clara did great with Santa, although Rose was not having it. This was her first Santa experience of the season and she did not want anything to do with him.
I just love this next progression of pictures. First Rose complains, then throws a fit, then makes the biggest pout ever, and finally resigns herself to whatever she is being forced to deal with, all over the course of about 10 seconds. She's at an emotional stage right now, lol.
And that was that! Cleanup went pretty fast with everybody pitching in and it seems like everybody had a good time. And I am SO glad it is over.