I have finished all the prerequisite December celebration stuff.
At school, we’ve worked since Thanksgiving on Christmas crafts, using as much glitter as we could possibly shake. We made hand prints into reindeer and angels. We had science lessons with Christmas themes, such as which is liquid and which is solid. We celebrated all the December holidays, mainly with glitter and hand prints. We made a Menorah out of hand prints and one out of thread spools. We made a Kwanzaa basket with vegetables and fruit, all outlined in glue and sprinkled with glitter.
So on Monday, when all the gifts and treasures where loaded up and sent home and all the glitter swept up, I was a little let down. That only lasted until Anita (Coggins) showed me her church’s (Trout Creek Baptist) Christmas pageant she had recorded on her cell phone. Watching that little bit of the Christmas story put a smile on my face that has not gone away.
I especially remember two Christmas pageants from my childhood and youth when I was in several Christmas plays. Until I was a teenager, I was always a little angel standing around as a body guard for Mary and the baby Jesus. I loved to get things ready for those plays. My Aunt Esther, the children’s Sunday school teacher, played the piano and sang beautifully. She directed our plays for years. Preparing for them was the big thing. Everyone had to go through closets and round up house coats. Because only adults wore house coats, they were always too big, dragging the floor like a train. We collected towels for the head pieces and tied them on the wise men with a strip of cloth. Mom saved the tow sacks from the store. She always had a sack open to scoop out a few pounds of feed at a time. She collected enough to dress the shepherds. Granny volunteered to sew up old sheets into robes for the angels, and she could fashion old coat hangers wrapped with silver garland into the most perfect halos and wings you could imagine. I felt absolutely angelic – at least for the short time I wore my wings.
Everyone went barefooted in the play because people didn’t wear sandals back then; you wore shoes or you didn’t.
A pretty teenager would usually be Mary. The only requirements were to have long hair and be able to sit still for an extended period of time. So, after we had gathered all the robes, tow sacks, clothes hangers and shiny garland,we were ready to have play practice. The way I remember it, first Gabriel (usually a girl; I got to do it a few times) came out, raised those arms high and loudly say, “Behold, I bring you great tidings” ... and so forth. The lights would then flash on several shepherds crouching down front of the pulpit. The choir would sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” the curtain would close, and a lot of shuffling would happen before the curtain parted again.
The shepherds would be gone, and some wise men would be walking slowly to the front while looking up into the sky. The preacher would read some scripture and the wise men would walk slowly off. At that point the curtain would close again, there would be more shuffling, and then it would open to Mary and Joseph wandering across the stage, walking up to the innkeeper, who was wearing a nice bath robe.
Joseph would ask for a room and the innkeeper would yell “no.” He was probably about 8 or so. He’d point behind him, leaving Mary and Joseph to wander off, stage left. The curtain closed and then opened to Mary and Joseph looking down at Baby Jesus lying in a manger. They would be surrounded by cardboard cutouts of animals and a heavenly host of angels – all the little girls in church who would stand still. The shepherds would walk in from one side and bow down to the baby; then the wise men walked in from the other, bowed and gave their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They kind of backed out of the way, and behold! there stood all the children in the church dressed up in house coats, tow sacks, and sparkly stuff, standing still for a few long seconds before starting to sing “Away in a Manger.”
The congregation would sing along with them. When the song ended, we children would exit in reverse order, leaving Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in place while the curtain closed. Everything was quiet, and then the lights came on. The preacher thanked everyone who had worked on the play and said what a blessing it was.
After a closing prayer, everyone would walk out, collecting little brown bags of treats that we had put together the evening before in Mom’s store.
I bet this is kind of like most of you remember, except with a different song here and there. I would guess the robes, outfits and shiny stuff were about the same.
Merry Christmas to all – and I hope your memories of Christmases past are as sweet as mine.