This year a DIY Christmas Pageant may be just what your Pandemic Pod needs. Grab your family or a few friends to celebrate the Christmas story in a new way.
Nine years ago, some crazy friends of mine decided we should put on a Christmas pageant with our kids. We had a gaggle of preschoolers and babies, and our church did not put on a traditional pageant. It gave us a chance to teach the story of the birth of Jesus to our children, put them in ridiculous costumes, and make some great memories. We also always seemed to have a real baby to be Jesus in the manger, which is, well, the best.
Our "Grass Roots Pageant Tradition" has grown over the years to now include teenagers, pets, instrument solos, printed programs, and lighting design. It's loud, wild, interpretive, and still just about 8 minutes long. We have a faithful audience of grandparents, neighbors, and church friends. We always follow the show with a Christmas cookie reception (free snacks!)
In a year of canceled events, this could be your chance to do a DIY Christmas Pageant. Here are a few basic steps.
First, choose who will be in your pageant. This year you may be limited to your family and one other, or maybe some cousins. Choose who will be the Magi, the angels, Mary, and Joseph. We always let the kids decide their part. Even if that meant some parts weren't featured. One of my daughters has been The Star for three years. She wraps herself in battery-operated Christmas lights and owns it.
You also only need one Shepherd, or you can have a group. Same with the angels. Stuffed animals make fine barn animals, but so do children who enjoy wearing old Halloween costumes. The narrator can be any adult or a child who likes to read aloud. We've amended our script to add Elizabeth, Mary's cousin, an innkeeper, and Herod, during years when kids wanted to play different characters.
We adapted our own pageant script years ago, adapting it from the Jesus Storybook Bible. You can easily find Christmas play scripts online, like this script. You want the narrator to do most of the speaking, with a few key lines by Mary and the angels.
After each section, we sing a carol, helping the kids learn the carols and giving the audience a chance to participate. We sing "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," "Away in a Manger," "We Three Kings," and "Go Tell It on the Mountain." On the final song, we've always had a basket of musical instruments to pass out. Everyone goes crazy.
Over the years, we have had rehearsals. These were optional, and a chance, really, to gather in the dark afternoons of December and pull together costume ideas and laugh. One rehearsal right before the show can be enough, but be sure you know who brings what in terms of props, scenery, and costumes.
This year, we're taking our Nativity play into the great outdoors, which will require warmer clothes and more potential for live animals. And there will be no rehearsals because the gathering is at a minimum. Organic at its best.
When it comes to performances, emphasize experience over excellence. You want your kids to remember this story in terms of welcome and celebration. They are invited in, just like the shepherds, even if they don't 100% behave themselves. There's no substitute for participation when it comes to learning a story. I'm amazed at how I still learn each year, just when I think I know the Nativity story by heart.
“I've got the baby here," Imogene barked at the wise men. "Don't touch him! I named him Jesus.”
― Barbara Robinson, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
In the Christmas season, when we are tempted to be overwhelmed by wish lists and consumption, slow down and tell the story together. Let it come to life for you in new ways, as you see your own imperfect humans take on the roles.
A DIY Christmas pageant removes any risk of the First Christmas being sanitized. We come to the manger as we are, not as we wish to be. (And then we take lots of pictures and save them forever.)
Merry Christmas Pageant!