I never saw a Christmas pageant until I began to attend church regularly when I was 30. The first couple of them, my role was getting my kid(s) to the rehearsal.
After a couple years in a supporting role, I found myself in Michigan and part of the women’s group there. I remember the conversation well. Marnie was one of the big ‘do bees’ of the church, and she addressed the Bible study. “I am not going to do the Christmas pageant this year. I’ve done it for 15 years. It’s someone else’s turn.”
I probably should have noticed the dead silence that met her comment, but I was new to the church and anxious to be of use. So I volunteered.
I was foolish and naive.
I later learned that someone had said something which put Marnie’s nose out of joint. She retaliated by threatening not to do the pageant. Nobody else spoke up because they knew two things. Number one: All Marnie was wanted was for everyone to beg her to do the Christmas pageant, at which point she would allow herself to be dragged back into it, with a show of great reluctance. Number two: She’d done the Christmas pageant for so long that she ‘owned it’, so to speak, and she actually did not WANT anyone else directing it.
This meant when she dropped off her children for the rehearsals, she stayed. And she offered never ending helpful suggestions. For instance, the lights went here, and here, and here. The shepherds came in this door. The kings entered from that door. If ever I questioned anything, I received the time honored church response to any change: “This is the way we’ve always done it.”
A month into the project, I was stressed. Marnie called me at home. Marnie sent me helpful little notes. Marnie cornered me every Sunday at church. I smiled sweetly, but, inside, I solemnly vowed to NEVER head a Christmas pageant again.
The week prior to the pageant, the calls began to come in. There was a terrible puking flu going around and some of the kids had succumbed. Our church had probably 35 children, so I tried to be practical. Most of the roles were supporting ones and nobody was really going to miss a couple shepherds or sheep or angels.
The night of the pageant, I had a small cadre of mothers with safety pins to help me get the kids costumed. The kids were dropped off an hour early to get dressed. I efficiently sent the angels here, the shepherds there, the sheep wondered around in their cotton balled shower caps baa-ing enthusiastically. In the hubbub, I noticed that Mary looked pale, but didn’t really have time to focus on it.
It was not long and it happened. Mary puked. In very short order, 3 more supporting actors were puking too. I, myself, am a sympathetic puker and was struggling mightily. In those days, there were no such things as cell phones, so we could do nothing but keep the sick children comfortable and wait for the parents to arrive. The show must go on, and so an angel was promoted to the role of Mary. The angel was thrilled but a little miffed that she’d have to perform the starring role in her angel robe because Mary had thrown up on the royal blue robe.
A parent was set up to meet the returning parents of the sick kids and detour them downstairs to take their sick children home. The chaos of sick children blended in with the chaos of getting ready for the pageant. The sheep bah-ed with great enthusiasm. Marnie roamed around telling me what I was doing wrong.
I smiled sweetly again and again and my internal dialogue went something like this: “Never again. NEVER again. I swear to GOD…”
Suddenly Marnie burst in the room, calling for me in an outraged voice. “The three Wisemen are throwing baby Jesus up and down the stairwell!”
I snapped. I raised my voice and said sharply, “For pete’s sake! I’ve got my hands full right now. Kids are puking and we’ve got others to get dressed. They are throwing a doll, Marnie. If it had been the actual Baby Jesus, I’m pretty sure His Father would take care of the Wisemen.”
The room got still. Even the sheep stopped bah-ing to take in this interesting scene. Marnie stared at me in shocked anger and then stormed out of the room. I covered my face in my hands. I’d tried so hard to be patient for the entire month and blown it all the day of the pageant.
The pageant went on, and it was perfect, as all Christmas pageants are. Marnie even deigned to speak to me after several months. I went on to direct many a church Christmas pageant although never again at that particular church.
It still makes me laugh to think of that long ago pageant. Despite the trauma of it, all these later, I have many fond memories of many Christmas pageants, and it really never seems like Christmas until I find a children’s pageant.
This year, Tim and I watched our own grandson William ‘abiding in the fields, keeping watch over his sheep by night.’ The purple haired angel of the Lord burst out to share the news: “Unto us a child is born”. An couple angels swung happily on the altar rail. One little shepherd even stuck his tongue out at the audience, not one of whom probably realized that William’s grandpa was sitting behind them all sticking his tongue out at William. (Don’t ask me why. I do not know).
And it was perfect, as all Christmas pageants are.