The children’s Christmas program is an annual event at our church. It is a time of pride for parents and grandparents as they get to see their little ones dressed in special Christmas clothes, nervously saying their “pieces” and singing in front of the congregation.
When I was a child our Christmas pageants were usually held on Sunday morning or Sunday evening. We had a rehearsal on the Saturday before the performance. There was a big party in the church basement after the rehearsal and we had food and a gift exchange. It was a lot of fun.
The first Christmas program that I remember participating in was held in our church basement. It may not have been the Christmas program, but it was an event of some sort held during the Advent season. I was about five years old and I sang the 1950s hit, All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.
I was scared to death to sing in front of people and would never have gotten through that song had it not been for the beautiful pink and blue Teddy bear that our neighbor Cindy had set on top of the upright piano. I focused on that bear and I somehow knew that he would be mine if I could finish the song. I did finish the song and I did get the bear. “Smiley” was my cuddly companion for many years after that.
Memorizing and reciting a Christmas piece has always been a part of our Christmas programs. I was never good at memorizing and worried about saying my verse correctly. I don’t think most children are good at memorizing their pieces. The little ones get a lot of prompting from the Sunday School teachers and the older kids usually just read their parts.
Most Christmas programs include a live nativity (sans animals) and the children play the parts of Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds and the wise men. The role of Baby Jesus is usually played by a doll baby. I never had the major role of Mary in any of our programs. I was usually just in the background chorus. A few years ago my husband and two other men played the roles of the three wise men. My husband got to wear a fancy robe and crown and carried a gift for Baby Jesus. It was a proud moment for our family to have one of our very own cast in a major Nativity role. [And, yes, I have heard all those "wise men" jokes and chose not to go there.]
I guess I have always been a Nervous Nellie. When I was young I was anxious about my part in the Christmas program and later I was nervous about our son’s part in the program. He was a spirited, independent and strong-willed little boy and we never knew what he would do in front of a crowd. It did not matter that the crowd was our church family. He had no shame as he rolled around on the floor or ran around the manger. We held our breath until the program was over. Why are the antics of little ones always more amusing when they are not your own children?
When all the characters of the Nativity are all in place the rest of the children usually sing Away In a Manger and Silent Night. The program concludes and the costumes are put away for another year.