Christmas Pageants have been around for a long time. Some credit St. Francis of Assisi with the first pageant when he celebrated the Christmas Eve mass in front of a full-sized manger scene with live animals in 1223. Others date it to the medieval mystery plays when the story of Jesus’ birth was included in dramas about his life. Now, Christmas pageants are done all over the world and in my experience the common practice has been to relegate the presentation of them to Sunday school children; but is there another way?
Last year, I began attending St George, West Kelowna. It is a small parish, and like many these days, there are very few children. Still, I offered to direct the Christmas pageant for the family service in the hopes that I might attract, at least, an intergenerational group of participants. To my surprise, I got about a dozen takers ranging from ages 65 to 80+ and only one 5-year old that got sick and had to drop out. Now, when I say I was surprised, it was not because of their ages but because there were so many of them in that demographic who wanted to participate. This was wonderful! So what if Mary was over 80! I just stuck to some basic pageant guidelines — “Keep rehearsals and lines to a minimum.” Luckily, I stumbled over the perfect script, which also turned out to be an interactive experience for the whole congregation.
It contained five scenes interspersed with well known hymns. As people arrived for the service they were offered halos, stars on sticks, shepherds’ crooks and animal ears. Those who played the main characters were already dressed in full costume. They had lines to say, which they read from index cards. (I was the emcee and narrator for the event.) As we began to sing the opening hymn all eyes turned to our priest as she processed down the aisle dressed as a duck, led by a cow carrying the cross. When it came time for the “main event” the congregation not only watched the story unfold, but were encouraged to yell out responses, laugh, make animal and angel sounds and raise their stars on cue. This was a truly unique Christmas Eve service, proving that pageants have the power to bring a community together and are not just for kids.
If you are interested in trying out a different kind of pageant, I recommend that you read “New Ways of Doing the Christmas Pageant” by Debbie Kolacki, found online at https://www.prcli.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/New-Ways-of-Doing-the-Christmas-Pageant-booklet5.pdf. She goes into great detail about the various kinds of pageants, including a brown bag pageant. She also recommends the following:
- The language of the script should been written so that it can be easily spoken by both adults and children.
- Lines should be kept short whether memorized or read from index cards.
- Consider having no speaking parts. Participants act out the scenes read by narrators.
- Sing very familiar Christmas carols.
- Keep costumes simple.
Keep rehearsals to a minimum. – One or two; perhaps with a final run-through on the big day.
To see the original script on which I based St George’s pageant, go to https://www.uua.org/worship/words/script/interactive-no-rehearsal-christmas-pageant/.
It appears to be copyright-free so you can adapt it to suit your parish. If you would like to have a copy of my adaptation, please email me at [email protected] to request it.
Norene Morrow holds a Master of Music degree from the University of Arizona and a Speech Arts and Drama diploma from the Royal Conservatory (Toronto).