Every year a new mother is tested at Christmas time. That is when she is asked to hand over her newborn to a 10-year-old girl who is playing Mary in the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Christmas Pageant.
The Christmas Pageant has not changed in at least 20 years. There are roles for every child, no matter their dramatic abilities. Shy? You can be a shining star or a donkey. No speaking parts. Dramatic? Well, there are the three Wise Men, of course. And the narrators, who actually have to be old enough to know how to read. And then there’s Mary. There’s a waiting list for Mary.
Elizabeth Pace has been the director of the pageant for the last ten years. She is ready to give it up, but there’s not a long waiting list of potential directors. The last director had to move out of town to get loose of the job. God love her, and I’m sure He does, Elizabeth directs the entire pageant on her knees. Eye level to the children, you know.
Here’s Noah, in the middle, waiting to go “on” as a Wise Man at age nine. The costumes were made by some unknown person at least two decades ago. I didn’t even think of the possibility of head lice.
Children “age out” of the pageant at twelve. Well, of course, after six years of watching him in his various roles, I aged out as well. But thank goodness for the church’s youth minister, Sally Chambers. She gave me another job. I am now the cookie lady.
Every year, the youth (ages thirteen and up) bake cookies for the reception after the pageant. I can tell you they are not entirely thrilled about this. They are the former stars of the pageant and they were pretty happy to leave that part of their lives behind. The last thing they want to do is get up at 7:30 in the morning to bake cookies. But this year, we had our most enthusiastic crowd. I have learned through hard experience that because of the less-than-alert nature of teenagers in the early morning hours, pre-made cookie dough is the way to go. That offends my perfectionist nature, but accommodations must be made. Even with good old Mrs. Pillsbury, with her cookie dough already cut into shapes, the teenagers found their own creative ways to try my patience. Let’s just take a ball of dough and make it into Ugly Santa. Yes? No.
So the cookies turned out pretty well. We went through three jars of sprinkles and $33 dollars worth of cookie dough. The teenagers also have to make the punch and it was moderately drinkable this year. I won’t even tell you about the year that Alex Fortney decided it would be a good idea to make punch with guava nectar.
But the main thing is that children and teenagers, parents and grandparents, shared in a tradition that is bigger than cookies or punch or whether you’re a donkey or the Virgin Mary.
It’s about the reason for the season. When Noah was younger, Christmas was all about getting him the exact toys he asked for. It was setting up way too many animated Santas and carolers in the house. It was about putting together what seemed like 578 cardboard bricks at midnight so Noah could build a play house Christmas morning. But somewhere along the way, it got quieter. More introspective. More solemn.
Now it’s about church on Christmas morning. Noah is usually the crucifer. I’m almost always the chalice (more wine for me – oh, how inappropriate!). And it’s about pre-made cookie dough with a passel of teenagers whose heads may not be in the game, but whose hearts are in the right place. And that mother of a newborn who takes a leap of faith.