It happens every year in churches near and far. Despite the shepherd that trips on his robe or the angel whose halo falls off in the middle of “Hark The Harold Angels Sing,” the little children’s Christmas plays, complete with the baby doll “Jesus” wrapped in a white blanket, the elated little girl that gets to play Mary and the little “sheep” with crooked ears, the little children’s Christmas pageant never seems to lose it’s charm.
One year, not yet considered one of the “older girls” and thus, not cast as Mary, I got the part of the cow! Now, throughout my “career” as a participant in our church’s Christmas productions, I have played many parts, but one of the parts that sticks out to me is the year I was the cow. Not because of any crazy mishap or because I had a big line. The reason I remember that particular year was because of the costume that my mom and the ladies of the church had to take special care to find. It probably wasn’t the worst costume and yet I don’t have particularly fond memories of it either!
The reason I bring this up, is that the past couple of weeks I helped with our churches Christmas pageant that was performed last night during the Christmas Eve service. As the “Shepherd” (the big brother) pestered the “Sheep” (the little sister) until an adult spotted them and put an end to the pestering behavior common to all siblings, as Joseph searched for a place for Mary, but was told “there was no room in the inn” and as the “wise men” practiced walking down the aisle to present their gifts to the babe “wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” I thought about the fact that years before I was born and from now on, for years to come, Christmas pageants would be diligently practiced by proud little children. The angel choir would be told to sing louder. Certain mishaps, such as forgotten lines and tripped up little boys in their long robes (and sometimes little girls, though you can tell they have had practice with dresses, unlike the little boys) common to such productions, would continue on.
I began to ponder, as I sent the “innkeeper” and his “wife” onstage on their cues and hoisted the manger on and off the stage, why we eagerly watch the Christmas pageants and their escapades every year? It’s not that we come to hear a new story that we have never heard before. It isn’t that the acting is the best you can find or that someone famous is performing .
And then I got to thinking… In the rush of the Christmas season, as stressed fathers and haggard mothers labor to make the perfect “Christmas” for their children, it is the little children in their innocence, who are able to truly capture the Christmas we all search for. It isn’t anything we create. Yet, how had we missed it? The little children in their effort to share the Christmas story with wise men, shepherds and their sheep, Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus and the melodies of the the timeless Christmas carols surrounding them from the Angel choir in their innocence and young wonder of the story of Christ’s birth… they had captured Christmas in all it’s wonder and perfection.
It doesn’t matter if the audience has to strain to heart the young actors on their Christmas debut or if one of the younger members of the cast (say, three years old) decides on the night of the performance not to sing and to take off his costume onstage, because unlike many of the “grownup” people, the joy and awe of the season shines forth from each and every child’s face, causing “Christmas” to descend on the congregation. Surely this is why this tradition is going strong and will continue on until the little “angels” have “shepherds” and “sheep” of their own someday!
Eager to Continue the Christmas Pageant Tradition,