I am always a little sad as the holiday season ends. Partly because I know people will start pestering me about my New Year’s resolutions.
Just so you all know, I gave up smoking five years ago, and I figure that should hold me for another decade at least.
Also, I really enjoy Christmas pageants. The Christmas pageant is unique among theatrical productions, and the only time of year you can see a really good Christmas pageant is at Christmastime.
Not all Christmas pageants are created equal, however. Some pageants are elaborate productions with highly trained adult actors and singers directed by intense and slightly neurotic men and women who demand professionalism.
These are the worst kind of pageants and should be avoided.
No, the Christmas pageants that are really worth the price of admission are the productions that include a large group of children of different ages, a beleaguered Sunday school teacher and at least one old sheep costume handed down through the congregation since biblical times.
Here is the typical program:
Opening song — It is good to pick a song that A.) sums up the play and B.) can be sung off key by a large group of happy children, while they are still happy. Directors should not pick an actual Christmas carol because the parents know the words and will pitch in to help the children out.
Act 1 — When Act 1 opens, it is a good idea to make sure the main characters know who they are, especially Joseph and Mary. These two should also know who the other one is. Nothing gets a pageant off on the wrong foot like having Joseph proclaim his affection for one of the livestock characters who has wandered out on stage to wave at their parents.
Second song — First act jitters should be wearing off by this time, and the kids are still keen and alert. This is a good time to trot out the most difficult song. You know, the one with all the hand gestures and dance moves. Some of the younger kids will still be curious about all the badly painted set props, but a little choreography goes a long way toward hiding the miscues.
Act 2 — Many directors make the mistake of trying to have too many characters on stage during the second act. It is very important to keep just the bare minimum of actors on stage and get the rest of the kids off stage for snack time. Crackers, apples and cheese are good snacks that will keep the kids’ energy up. Anything with sugar is asking for trouble. No juice under any circumstances.
The actors on stage will all have forgotten their lines. No worries! At least one parent (you know who you are) will be actively trying to help out by whisper/shouting cues to their kids, who suddenly have gone deaf.
Third song — Now is the time to break out the Christmas carols. The director won’t have time to help direct the singing, and it’s best to let the parents join in to keep things on track. The director will be busy running kids to the restroom because, despite their better judgement, they gave them all juice boxes anyway just to keep them quiet.
Act 3 — Directors, abandon all pretense that anyone knows their lines. The key here is to get everyone on stage because the parents are in full “photographer” mode. All they want is pictures of the play to send to grandparents and post on Facebook. Likely, you, the director, is starting to get a mild headache. This is normal and can be treated with egg nog later. Right now just get into the last song.
Last song — This is the one we have all been waiting for. It’s best sung uptempo so frantic attempts to keep the younger kids from wandering off stage look like dance moves. Everyone take a bow and run to your parents, please ....
I have been a participant in a number of Christmas plays and have seen many more. Once I even wrote and directed a Christmas pageant of my own. I was 17 and it was the year the Sunday school teacher wondered, “What do you expect me to do with this group?”
The group in question consisted mainly of myself, my brother, my best friend and a few other hoodlums who came to our Sunday classes to hear the three of us crack jokes in the back.
Most of the girls, along with the Sunday school teacher, boycotted the production that year.
But we worked hard. I spent several painstaking hours writing the script for the play, following the scriptural Christmas story as closely as possible — with added realism, and a few creative flourishes.
Looking back, I can see where I went wrong.
The play was, in style, a sort of cross between “Goodfellas,” and “The Hangover.”
I think one of our elderly church matrons summed it up best when, just as Mary barfed on the donkey, she exclaimed, “Oh! My word ...” and quickly left.
I am pretty sure I heard the Sunday school teacher tell the pastor in hushed tones, “Now do you see what I’m talking about?”
After that flop, I worried that in some way I had not only committed a terrible, terrible sin, but had contributed the delinquency of my friends and turned my family into outcasts.
A few years ago, however, I gave up worrying. If there is anyplace in this world for sinners, delinquents and outcasts, it’s in church. They fit right in.
That’s why I love Christmas pageants. They are the perfect mirror of life. We forget our lines and sometimes our roles. We’d rather have someone else’s part, and we’re more interested in the set decoration’s snacks.
Or maybe that’s just me.
In any case, my favorite part of the play is when the kids run off stage, and despite all the mistakes, miscues and blatant screw-ups, their parents hoist them into the air and say, “Good job, honey.”