Advent, My Way #3


Were you brought up a Christian?

Were you ever in a Christmas pageant?

Did you plan and produce them in your home on Christmas Eve?

Did you force your relatives to gather and sit and watch and applaud?

I don’t know how widespread this behavior was—maybe it was just engaged in by nerdy little farm girls in strict Evangelical Protestant homes, suffering from a high need for attention. I just know that it was an absolute, nonnegotiable staple in my family.

Four cousins.

A farmhouse.

Generations gathered.

A bright fireplace, pies baking, a couple of dogs galumphing around.

The stage is set. The audience sits in hushed anticipation. Or perhaps they are just waiting to get it over with!

The angels walk in, with their robes made of bed sheets and their belts made of tinsel, and their cardboard halos.

Not known for their singing voices, they sing.

Not known for their acting talent, they play out the Christmas story.

The oldest, the bossy one, reads from Luke:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.

And the angel said unto them: Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy . . . For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Fifty years later, I can call those words, unbidden, to mind. I can recite them without referring to the small white Bible I was given by my grandmother.

Fifty years later, those cousins all remember and laugh about their antics.

Fifty years later, many of those who gathered are gone from this earthly coil and others feel removed from the religious aspects of the holiday.

But the memories remain strong and they still matter.

Tell us—do you have Christmas pageant memories?


59 thoughts on “Advent, My Way #3

  1. Sweet memories. 🙂 We performed plays at home or at a friend’s home during the year but the Christmas pageant was something which happened at Sunday School. I am sure all those gathered loved your performances.

  2. I was raised in a Christian plays at home but there were school Christmas programs. I always hated them for I had to sing,I don’t mind singing in the shower ,garden,or with grandchildren,but not when lm the center of attention! I do remember my Grammy reading the Christmas story in her sweet shaky voice. I can still hear it. 🙂 hmmm… I wonder if my siblings think I’m the bossy oldest sister…😂

    • We did the pageants at church, too–I can remember one when I had a total meltdown in the pew before I went up because I thought I’d forget my “piece.” What a little drama queen! It’s funny–I can still hear my grandmother’s voice in my head, singing “how great thou art” . . . .

  3. What sweet memories!!Love the photos! I was once in a Christmas pageant. I was a rather clumsy little girl, due to late developing motor skills. Oh how I wished to be the Angel but the teacher for saw many troubles with me so she decided I could be one of the shepherds. Disappointing for me, but still at least I was ‘in’. Alas..I managed to get my robe hooked on the manger, it tumbled over and baby Jesus (thank goodness represented by a baby doll) rolled of the stage. Everybody was in shocked horror and I could add another moment of shame to my long list.
    However, years later I was head of the’children department’ in the church where we lived at that time and together with the other moms we started doing Christmas celebrations for the tiny toddlers. It was just 15 minutes (taking short attention spans in account) and there was always the delightful squeaky old wooden donkey involved who would bring Mary on his back, pulled by Josef into the church. A little story, a little song and a treat…and than outside for the live Nativity Scene. Oh those shining little faces!!. Within a few years hundred of people came to it. It made me really happy and when people complained about tumbling toddlers in the church, you can understand they were met with stern reproaches and a quote of Jesus himself who stated “let children come to me!”. Xo Johanna
    Ps I grew up with many different churches and beliefs…to me its quite simple: as long as Love and Peace is the message, I am happy.

    • Oh, I LOVE these stories–the first made me laugh until I cried–I can just picture it and it’s so sweet, really! I bet no one has ever forgotten that pageant! And I would love to have seen the toddlers in action–yes, love and peace are all we need.

    • A wonderful story. My mother was a kindergarten teacher. She always organised a Christmas pageant for the little ones, but like you kept it short and sweet. There were children of different faiths but everyone joined in and it was a time of love and fun.

  4. I grew up unchurched with the faintest murmurs of Christianity in the background. We did not pageants at home. Of course at (public) grade school, we did learn all the carols, including several in Spanish! I don’t remember putting on Christmas programs for parents, though I suppose we might have when I was in little-kids’ grades. At home we had a tree and other decorations, and presents, and various rituals around the day. But I don’t have deeply ingrained ideas of how to do it all “right”.

  5. My one and only stage appearance was as Mary in my elementary school’s Christmas play. I had the immortal lines, “We have come far, so very far.” The rest of the time I spent looking pious and staring at the light bulb in the manger that represented you know who. We put on a performance each for the lower and upper schools. One was enlivened by the innkeeper saying, “Let us now go into the donkey.” Since my school had a large group of Jewish students we also did a Hanukkah play. Thanks to that I learned the dreidel song and the origins of Hanukkah.

  6. At school we had a Christmas program with songs and I was always a Shepherd. Baby Jesus was always a doll. I have no real memories of these programs. My cousin had a school program and they had a skit where they were pretending to sleep under the Christmas tree when Santa arrived. The kids wore their pajamas onstage.
    For years we teased my cousin for wearing her pajamas in public! When I was 12 we moved to a more diverse community. My new best friend was Jewish. I am now spiritual but belong to no religion.

  7. I orchestrated pageants with siblings in front of the fireplace but without Bible verses. Those I memorized in high school. As a teacher assistant, I led pageants, with Bible verses, and was in charge of the pageant for several years at the Unitarian church. Love, love, love pageants.

  8. Not a Christmas pageant but a pantomime. My friend and I organized Cinderella done twice because we both wanted to be Cinderella. Brothers had bit parts! Parents all assembled, stage set in our garage and my friend gets stage fright and it was Cinderella not done at all!

  9. You have such wonderful childhood memories with your extended family Kerri, I love to read about your shenanigans!

    I was raised in a family that gave a public nod to Christianity but which, behind closed doors, was anything but. Christmas was awful for my siblings and me. It involved much screaming and arguing, alcohol and violence between the parents while the children cowered in their beds. It happened every year. All the other kids would go on holiday, have fun family times, receive lovely gifts. We got more trauma and a token tat gift – one year my gift was a pair of socks. In my own small family I worked very hard to turn Christmas into something my children would cherish and remember. I broke the cycle of abuse consciously.

    Nowadays there’s a part of me that tends to see this seasonal holiday sadly – I see the expectation for shopping and know many spend money they do not have. I see the expectation of presenting ‘stuff’ and know it perpetuates the myth that ‘stuff’ makes you happy. I see the expectation for jollity, and know many are alone and sad at this time. And I’ve come across a lot of folk who dread the enforced time with family they don’t really like, playing a role they don’t really live.

    But there’s another part of me that, although I claim no connection with any denomination of Christianity, loves the Christmas Message, believes it lives in more hearts than not and looks to find the unconditional love that shines from each soul.

    I realise this comment has zero to do with your delightful post, I apologise for that – somehow it just came up!

  10. I don’t remember much of mine as a child, but I do remember gathering at Christmas Eve at the homestead where two of my bachelor uncles lived. We sang and sang, my uncles had made a violin and a guitar, and one of the older cousins played the pump organ the uncles had brought home for my Grandma with some of their pay while soldiers in WW2. That stopped for my family when we left northern MN for CO, but I do have the pump organ now.

  11. Loving everyone’s comments.
    No pageants for me.I am English and grew up in a pub ( above the shop) Christmas was always very busy, especially Christmas morning and I helped out as soon as I was allowed on licensed premises. Christmas evening was the only time of the year we were closed.
    And, yes, I have very fond memories.

    • The comments on these posts have been such fun! And growing up over a pub sounds amazing–I read all kinds of British mysteries that tend to be set in pubs and have been in a few myself. I can just imagine what the atmosphere was at Christmas!

  12. A gorgeous post. I can remember playing the angel gabriel in my infants school nativity play. I wanted to be Mary, so did not appreciate it at the time, but looking back, I am very happy to have had that part! 🙂

  13. I love these photos. What nice memories. We had Christmas shows at school, but I don’t think I saw a pageant until I was an adult! I love Johanna’s tale of knocking over the manger.

  14. I remember Christmas pageants at church. We also had to memorize poems for the Christmas program. I always really struggled with the memorization–and worried that I would forget my lines when I recited them in front of everyone.

  15. Can’t add much here. Had a different raising, nomadic and secular. Dad was agnostic, mom atheist, me, I raised myself Lutheran or whatever was available. Loved all that went with Christmas till I started reading the history and decided to drift from doctrine to a more inclusive approach. My kids were raised with some religion but always had them keep an open mind. Our church family was our extended family in all our travels. They didn’t do Christmas pageants either that I remember. But we are a Christmas family to the core. My grown son is the biggest kid around at Christmas. He was so disappointed last year because there were no stocking stuffers. The man is 49! 🙂

  16. Look at all these great memories you’ve stirred up! I love reading them!. We did not have a performance at home, but like so many that have indicated here, my elementary school always had a Christmas performance. It was carried out just before the Christmas holiday and all parents and townspeople came. Singing, a few Christmas poems, a short story. Each grade had their piece. It was wonderful! Happy Holidays to you, Kerry!

    • I am so tickled by the conversations taking place here! Happy unintended consequences! I think I should go out and find a Christmas program to watch, just to bring back the memories!

  17. Funny, I was brought up Roman Catholic and went to a parochial school and I don’t remember any Christmas pageants. But your homemade angel outfits are charming!

    • My impression is that Catholics are more bound by the liturgy and the church fathers whereas Protestants, especially fundamental ones, are more focused on the congregation taking part. I wonder if I’m right about that?

  18. How lovely to have siblings or cousins to make childhood memories with! But school nativity plays were fun, though I tended to be a shepherd with a tea towel on my head. Which was fine. I didn’t want to be Mary. I hated being in the limelight

    • I only have one sibling and two close cousins who were only around during the summer and holidays. I always sort of envied big families but I do feel lucky for the one I had!

  19. A lovely post, Kerry. Thank you for giving us the chance to relive our memories. I am struck by the diversity of experiences ~ just like life, no one way to live it.
    In my family we had a token nod towards Christianity, but for some reason my sister, two brothers and I decided to put on a nativity play for a few Christmases. Maybe we were inspired by stories of carol singers, a tradition we had only read about. I got to be Mary and carried the Maori doll that my Dad brought back from New Zealand! I think we made my little brother be the donkey 🙂 I doubt that we were very faithful to the actual Nativity story, enjoying the dressing up as much as the acting! The Christmas ‘plays’ are long gone, but I still love to gather with my family and celebrate those special bonds.

    • Finally! Someone who did the home pageants, too–I had begun to wonder just how odd my family was! I love the idea of the Maori baby Jesus and the little donkey boy!

  20. My primary school didn’t do a Christmas play, we just had a party in the classroom, learnt carols and made lots of decorations. We had a school assembly every morning and at Christmastime we heard the Christmas story. I was a Brownie Guide and we did Nativity plays every year in the Church Hall. In my Grammar school we provided entertainment for lots of local elderly people (poor dears!). They came for the afternoon, were fed and then watched sketches and short plays, listened to the choir and then at the end the 6th form girls (the eldest ones) presented a nativity tableau. The 5th form girls (16 years olds) had to do the rounds of the tables and make sure all the guests were comfortable and had enough to eat. I remember my friends and I were asked to sit on a few elderly gentlemen’s laps – which we didn’t do of course!
    I love your memories and photos Kerry. I have also enjoyed reading all your comments – some are funny and others so sad!

    • You have a lot of good memories around Christmas “entertaining,” too! I have loved reading the comments to all of these posts–seeing how similar we are, and how different.

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