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The Christmas Pageant in All Its Inglorious Tradition

The Shepherds wield their crooks like jousting swords

I sat at the back of the church so I could leave with my rambunctious three-year-old if necessary. He was wearing a cowboy hat everywhere, so he wore his cowboy hat to the Christmas pageant.

One volunteer mother was coralling the shepherds in their bathrobes and head towels, and directing the wise men when to process. The shepherds’ crooks had to be taken away until just before they marched down the aisle lest one boy poke another’s eye out.

The conclusion to the angels’ songs and parade of shepherds and wise men was the scene with Mary and Joseph and a real live infant nestled in the hay of the manger at the front of the church. Once the tableau was in place, the congregations would rise and file past the living nativity scene.

When Mary laid the baby in the manger, my little cowboy pointed and said excitedly, “Look, it’s the baby Jesus,” and ran up the aisle to the manger. Mary, quick-moving, snatched the baby Jesus and held him protectively against her shoulder as my child said “I want to hold him.”

I got to my feet to rush down the aisle and grab my kid, but just then the congregation filed into the aisles to walk past the nativity scene, wise men, shepherds, angels, and cowboy. I was stuck, frantically calling and waving.

Ten years later, we lived in a major city, and the downtown church we attended put on a major Nativity Pageant. The Nativity Pageant generally got substantial newspaper play and ran for twenty performances. It was a big deal — live animals, professional and amateur cast members, paid tickets, assigned seating.

My son transformed into Herod’s fan boy (with a big, long handled fan for the reclining Herod) and then the messenger boy. Mary and Joseph hooked up and then got married, generating more news stories about the romance of the Nativity.

After a run of two decades, The Nativity Pageant stopped being a draw. Our church moved on to a concert for public Christmas celebration.

Faith Takes Practice.

The best laughs from a Christmas pageant story come from A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. This wonderful book by John Irving has a mantra that should be inscribed above a writer’s desk: Faith takes Practice.

The book is narrated by a self-described Joseph of the nativity, a guy who is a bystander by nature instead of the little Owen Meany who orchestrates the action.

The Christmas play includes a fat boy afraid of heights in the part of the announcing angel. He is dangled from a rope for his role. Other comic tragedies await the pageant.

Faith needs practice –whether that is faith in one’s self, or another, or the future, or whatever spiritual sense is part of the journey.

Owen Meany taught that. Joseph learned that.

Finding hilarity in faith is a key part of our practice. The laughter are the wise cracks that let the light in.

My three-year-old grand-daughter is a living testimony to faith in the future. She will be in her first Christmas Pageant, in the part of a lamb. She is already practicing her lines. (Baa-baa).

Faith takes practice.

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2 Responses

  1. Susan Spivack
    | Reply

    Oh my,,,,,this is just wonderful! “Wise cracks” love it!

    • Sharon Johnson

      The cowboy hat was the 3-year-old at Cobleskill Methodist Church.

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