Amateur Hour Pageants

Our church just announced this year’s Christmas Eve “Experience.” It will truly be an event, with an official title (for promotional purposes, I assume), a huge cast, handcrafted costumes, well-built scenery, lights, carols—even ice skating!—plus a reenactment of the nativity and a candlelight service. Thousands of people will come to each of the three performances, and I’m sure they’ll be impressed.

The church we attended when our kids were young was much smaller—350 people instead of 10,000. There was no way we were going to compete with the huge productions of much larger churches. Instead, our Christmas program was pretty much the complete opposite.

There were no auditions, no rehearsals, and no lines to memorize. The pastor picked a Sunday night a few weeks before Christmas, and everyone just showed up.

Every child aged three through six had a part. The younger half of the cast were all shepherds, while the older kids were angels. Boxes of appropriately-sized costumes were pulled out of the church basement every year and helpful parents got their kids ready.

The older kids couldn’t all be involved, but we still needed a narrator, some wise men, Mary, Joseph, and Gabriel. Those were coveted roles, and hands waved wildly until all were assigned parts. A couple of dads headed for the back of the building to put on the camel costume—consisting of a head with eye-holes and an old canvas sheet attached to cover the humps on back. Of course, there was much good-natured ribbing about who would end up in the rear!

What’s a nativity without Jesus? That role was always played by the newest baby in the congregation, sometimes only a few days old.

Once everyone was ready, the narrator started in reading from Luke, and a few adults directed each child to the right spot on stage. Chaos reigned at first, but eventually everyone found their place. Lopsided halos and arguing shepherds were just part of the show. The camel made its way down the center aisle, only running into a few obstacles as the wise men walked along side, helping to guide it.

Gabriel climbed the ladder, holding the star high over the manger, and Mary and Joseph took their places next to the manger. Joseph tried not to look too embarrassed at being paired with a girl. Then Mary was handed baby Jesus. While she tried to keep the baby content, the shepherds and angels squirmed, waved at mom and dad, and did all the other embarrassing things that little kids do on stage. Finally the narrator was done and everyone in the congregation sang a few favorite carols.

In spite of the impromptu nature of the performance (or maybe because of it!), there wasn’t a dry eye in the sanctuary. After all, no one rehearsed for that first Christmas either.

Once all the actors and actresses had taken their last curtain call, baby Jesus was returned to his parents, the costumes went back into their boxes, the camel was put away for next year, and everyone headed into Fellowship Hall for a Christmas party, complete with cookies, crafts, and a piñata.

Our kids are all grown up now, but ask either of them about their favorite Christmas memories, and I’m sure to be at the top of the list. There’s a place for professional-level productions, and I’m sure a lot of people will hear the gospel for the first time at our church this year, but we don’t have to be practiced experts to spread the good news about Christmas. Jesus’ birth became real to our kids and their friends on the stage of a small church in California.

3 thoughts on “Amateur Hour Pageants

  1. Wow, Leslie,

    This is so cool! Your writing captures the essence of the whole experience. Great job.

    Posted my own one-man video play. “Christmas In A Tin Box” this morning. Lots of fun.

    One year, for my family only after Christmas dinner, I put on a play called “The Ugliest Virgin” in which I played the part of the Virgin Mary trying to diaper a teddybear amid clouds of baby powder. The family howled with laughter but they even came away with serious thoughts about the Incarnation when the silly play was over.

    I love Christmas!


  2. I don’t remember there being any eye holes in the camel. Lol! One year they kept running it into the seats on either side of the aisle… just couldn’t seem to aim straight!
    Yes, that is one of my fondest Christmas memories. And, I also remember going outside with candles to sing silent night (probably the only time we could actually hold something on fire) and then afterwards we would drive around and look at Christmas lights. Ahhhh… Christmas just hasn’t been the same without the chaotic living nativity pageant. I hope our new church in WA does one!

  3. I like this. Brings back memories of pageants in the small church I grew up in. Quite unlike the glitzy, professional-level production I attended at a larger church the other day. I found myself looking for anachronisms, such as the pilgrim on his way to Bethlehem with his bedroll, the Zipper a prominent feature! (Maybe that is scriptural: “And lo,they came to Beth-lehem with their zippered bedrolls…” Hezekiah 3:2
    Not kidding, I pray someone got the gospel message from that program.

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