The children’s Christmas program is an annual event at our church. It is a time of pride for both parents and grandparents as they get to see their little ones dressed in their Christmas finery, 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 our rehearsal the Saturday before and afterward there was a big party in the church basement where we had a gift exchange and food. It was a lot of fun.
The first 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 held during the holiday season, possibly a New Years Eve service. I was about five years old and I sang the 1950s hit song 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 a beautiful pink and blue teddy bear that was propped on top of the upright piano. Our neighbor Cindy had put him up there. I somehow knew that he would be mine if I could just finish the song. So I focused on the teddy bear and somehow got through the song. Cindy gave him to me when it was over and “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 but sometimes a real baby is put in the manger if there is a newborn in the congregation.
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 Joe and two other men played the roles of the Three Wise Men. [And, yes, I have heard all those “wise men” jokes but choose not to go there.] For his role Joe got to wear a fancy robe and crown and carry a gift for Baby Jesus. It was a proud moment for our family to have one of our very own cast as a major Nativity character.
Back in 1995 we had an outdoor live Nativity with real animals. Mary and Joseph were portrayed by Michelle Hamrick and Chad Reynolds. The Wise Men were Craig Ripley, Kevin Caffee, and J.R. Brigner. Sue Ann Reynolds was the angel and our son Jeff and Grant Ripley were shepherds. Note the live donkey and goat in the realistic Nativity scene below.
I guess I have always been a Nervous Nellie. When I was young I was nervous about my part in the Christmas program and years later, when our son Jeff was old enough, I worried about his 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. It was still a group of people watching—an audience. He had no shame as he rolled around on the floor or ran around the manger. Joe and I 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.
Last year members of the congregation were asked to participate by wearing an ugly sweater to the Christmas program, to go along with the program’s theme. Joe and I are good team players so we tried to comply with the request. I found a moderately ugly sweater selection but Joe found a very good example for himself among some of Jeff’s old clothes. When we got to church we noticed that no one else was wearing an ugly sweater. Not even the person who made the ugly sweater request. Everyone else was dressed in their normal Christmas finery. We looked a little odd. A few people even remarked to Joe about his unusual sweater choice. Did no one else get the memo? Was it some sort of crazy conspiracy to make the Bennetts look like they have no fashion sense? [Moral of the story: Be wary, very very wary of unusual Christmas program requests.]
At the conclusion of the program the costumes are put away for another year and another Sunday School Christmas program.