Perils of a Multicultural Facilitator

HAL PIPER

October 31, 1992|By HAL PIPER

Our children lived for a time as Americans in a German neighborhood, attending a British school. We celebrated everything.

Each January 6 the Three Kings visited, neighbor children suitably costumed, collecting pfennigs for UNICEF and candy for themselves, in return for their chalked blessing on our doorframe to ensure our continuing good fortune.

One May Day, we awoke to find an entire birch tree leaning against the house -- a love offering to the American college student living with us, from her German swain.

But it was at this time of year, around Halloween, that I came into my own as a triple-threat Multicultural Facilitator.

Germans, pagans that they are, do not acknowledge Halloween and find it bewildering to be visited by small, costumed apparitions begging for candy. So we took our little Americans across the Rhine and did our trick-or-treating in the apartment complex housing American diplomats and military personnel. Alas, our 6-year-old Superman tripped on his cape, got an awful knock on the head and was too woozy to enjoy the evening.

He recovered in time for Guy Fawkes Day, five days later, when the British commemorate the anniversary of a popish plot in 1605 to blow up the Houses of Parliament. There are fireworks and parties, and children make effigies of the plotter and toss them onto bonfires. Actually, of course, their parents make the effigies. A father's chest swelled with pride when David's ''guy'' won the school prize, apparently because, unlike the other entries, it looked like the authentic work of a 6-year-old.

St. Martin's Day, sacred to the Germans, followed. This commemorates a Roman military officer who won his place in heaven by sharing his cloak with a poor man. The holiday is celebrated with a parade led by St. Martin, mounted on a white horse, helmeted like a legionary and cloaked in opulent scarlet.

Playing St. Martin is a job for professionals who keep the requisite regalia of horse, helmet and cloak and rent themselves out for community parades. Thus the saint's day, properly November 11, may be marked early or late, depending on when a village can book St. Martin.

Children make and decorate lanterns of cardboard and candles, which means, of course, that their parents make them. Then the children march in the parade behind St. Martin, singing a song about lanterns shining like stars. In our town, the procession ended with a splendid bonfire at the Weinberg, the vineyards overlooking the Rhine.

Because of the large diplomatic community in Bonn, David's playmates came from all over. One year he and a Thai won the three-legged race at the school picnic. The American Cub Scout pack included boys from Sweden, Pakistan, Indonesia, Tanzania. One Hindu parent phoned ahead to den mothers to remind them tactfully not to offer her vegetarian son hamburgers, and a Muslim one called with a similar warning about pork. The potluck Blue and Gold dinner was a banquet of delicacies from around the world.

At Christmas the Multicultural Facilitator thought he was back in familiar territory. My son was recruited to play a shepherd in the local parish's Nativity pageant. Piece of cake; I paid my dues as a shepherd in many pageants, once rising to the eminence of Head Shepherd (though I never made Wise Man; not tall enough, I suppose).

We costumed David as shepherds normally are costumed in these pageants, in a floor-length bathrobe and headdress, with a crook -- very Middle Eastern.

The Germans were aghast. They thought he looked like a Palestinian terrorist. It turns out Germans think the Christmas shepherds dress like scruffy medieval peasants -- as in the ''Wizard of Id'' comic strip. Fortunately, there was still time to wrap David in a raincoat liner and leather belt.

The pageant was a success. David looked like a shepherd among shepherds.

Hal Piper is editor of the Opinion * Commentary page.

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