Note: This is a “throw-back” column to my years as humor columnist (“Sanity Check”) for the Dayton Daily News. I wrote it 20 years ago (!!!) but it is still, I believe, relevant today. I read this on my weekly “Tea with Jess,” which I host every Monday at 3 p.m. on my Jess Montgomery Author Facebook page, and thought I’d share it here, too. Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, and Happy Holiday season to one and all!
My nine-year-old daughter wants to wear her oversized snake t-shirt from the natural history museum as her costume in the Christmas Pageant. She’s part of the ensemble that’s to open the pageant: girls at a slumber party introducing the Christmas story to a girl who hasn’t heard it.
My eight-year-old daughter, a.k.a. Shepherd Number Four, keeps saying her two lines as one long word. With her eyes squeezed tightly shut.
I try explaining to my nine-year-old why a snake t-shirt as a pajama top is fine at home but probably not the best costume choice for a Christmas pageant.
“Remember the snake’s role in the story of Adam and Eve?” I say. “We’ll just go shopping and get you a nice pajama set, maybe something pink, silky…”
“But, mo-o-o-o-m,” she wails, “I HAVE to wear this t-shirt because it’s my ONLY COMFORTABLE night clothes and I won’t be able to act if I’m not comfortable…”
I turn my attention back to my eight-year-old. “Dear, you might try saying each word one at a time. And opening your eyes while you speak.”
“But, mo-o-o-o-m,” she wails, “I can SEE my lines with my eyes closed, so it’s more like reading…”
It’s easy for parents to miss the point of the annual Christmas pageant. After all, the story is so well known that it’s easier to focus on more immediate concerns–the creative, new ways in which ones children can be embarrassing.
Finally, it’s time for the Christmas pageant. And I realize I’m not the only parent just a wee bit nervous. I know this, because along with our holiday outfits, we’re all wearing smiles stretched just a bit too thin.
The story begins. Oldest daughter, as part of the slumber-party-intro-ensemble, appears wearing not new silky pajamas, but a different oversized t-shirt (this one from a summer camp) and pajama bottoms–a last minute compromise.
Mary and Joseph appear, discuss their situation with Angels #1 and #2, then take off on their trek to Bethlehem in their Reeboks and robes. After being booted out by a gleeful Innkeeper (played by a young actor who intuitively understands that the villainous roles are always the most fun), they take up residence in a stable (a.k.a. a decorated refrigerator box, held up by the Patron Saint of Christmas Pageants, who has dominion over gravity).
Shepherds one through six arrive herding two sheep, but somehow the youngest sheep makes a break for it and toddles off to find her mother. Shepherd Number Four keeps her eyes open and says her lines as if they are TWO words. I consider this success, and relax a little.
Two wise women and one wise man appear and, drawing upon their collective 12 years’ life experience, deliver their lines most sagely but are unable to offer wisdom to help the shepherds retrieve their wandering sheep (now with mom). Gifts are presented to the baby in the manger… and suddenly–too suddenly, it seems–the pageant is over.
All of us, young and old and somewhere in-between, grandparents and parents and children, sing Joy to the World. As we do, a little girl, too young to be in the pageant, breaks forth from the pews, toddles forward, and starts dancing.
No one stops her as we sing. I’m glad, and looking around, I can see the other grownups are glad, too, for her dance serves as the perfect summary of what the children’s annual reenactment of the Christmas story is really all about anyway: not perfection, but pirouettes of joy, bounds of grace, and leaps of faith.