THE ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF PUPPETS AND MASKS USED AT ST. AUGUSTINE'S NATIVITY PLAY, DECEMBER 2020 - FR. JOSEPH ALSAY, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
Many have asked about the 2020 Nativity Pageant and new Mask Puppets here at St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church -
Puppets and masks have been in existence all around the world for thousands of years. Every country or culture has its own unique artistry and traditions expressed by beautiful and creative masks and puppets. They are used for storytelling, entertainment and all kinds of religious and cultural celebrations. Some are used to depict characters in a story; some may be used to honor those who have died; some represent animals or spirits; and still others are simply a disguise. The face is often a prominent part of a puppet that emphasizes a unique feature or characteristic of the entity that it depicts.
Today’s Nativity story is told through the use of custom-made theatrical puppets, each operated by two puppeteers. The story is recounted by a humble shepherd who witnessed the unfolding of the night of Jesus’ birth (the Nativity) as an event of miraculous – larger-than-life – proportions. You will see that the faces are by far the most prominent part of our three oversized creations: Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus. Each face is based on art representing a specific ethnic background. This is meant to celebrate not only the diversity but also the interconnectedness prevalent in the world, and which is also reflected in the people of St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church.
Mary – The face of this puppet was inspired by the icon of Our Lady of Ferguson (2016), created by Mark Doox and commissioned by the Rev. Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones. The icon depicts the Madonna as African American and was created in response to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri in 2016. Archeologists and anthropologists have long believed that all cultures in the world emanated from Africa. Thus, depicting Mary -- the mother of the church and all humanity -- as black, or African American, is poignant.
Joseph – This puppet was inspired by the love the Latina and Latina X communities hold for St. Joseph, guardian of our Lord. It is a well-known fact that within the first decade of the conquest of Mexico by Spain, St. Joseph was held in great devotion. In fact, Joseph was proclaimed patron of the Viceroyalty of New Spain (present-day Mexico, Central America and the Philippines). The [name of artwork] was used as the model for the face of this puppet.
Baby Jesus – This puppet was inspired by our desire to honor the native American people and the land that this great congregation was born and built upon. As many of us know, the name “Oklahoma” means, Red People and our state is known as being the place where the Trail of Tears found its end.
Maybe it’s no coincidence that now -- as we are wearing masks for protection during the coronavirus pandemic -- we are taking a new look in a new way at masks that were used long before they became a part of the 2020 daily wardrobe! Our beautiful puppet creations were made possible by the gracious contribution of Melissa and John Miller and created by Toni Mikulka, of “Giant Puppets Save the World” in Oakland California.
~ Fr. Joseph Alsay, Rector - St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church