It is a tradition at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, as it is at most churches, that the children of the church participate in a Christmas pageant. The pageant had remained the same for at least 15 years, all of Noah’s growing up. He started as a donkey and maxed out in sixth grade as a wise man.
This year, the pageant changed. It was time. Donna Stokes-Rogers, the musical director at church, took over and I can tell you it showed. Not to say anything ugly about the volunteer parent directors who have done it in the past. But there was marked improvement. The children sang songs I had not heard before. There was minimum audience participation, also a good thing. And there was only one slight mishap and it happened during rehearsal. Generally, the actress portraying Mary holds a real baby provided by some incredibly trusting mother. Please note the woman holding the baby on the left. She is holding the baby because in rehearsal someone gave the baby to Joseph who had clearly never held a baby before and sort of carried her around like a sack of potatoes for a few seconds until mom rushed up to intervene. No harm was done and the show went on without a hitch.
The other tradition at St. Paul’s is that the youth of the church, the teenagers, make Christmas cookies for the reception. This tradition has had its ups and downs. There was the year one youth decided that guava nectar would make a great base for the punch. It did not. There was another year when most of the bakers were boys. I’m sure they have all gone on to great careers, maybe some of them as chefs, but that year the cookies were dark and foreboding, loaded down with a macabre mountain of different colored sugar crystals whose color tended toward deep brown when baked.
I am the baking overseer, providing the cookie dough and sprinkles and handling the dangerous tasks such as removing the pans from the oven. This year I had a superior crew. Please note the precision with which they place the sugar sprinkles on the cookie dough. And here’s a tip for any of you undertaking a group baking session. Use parchment paper on the pans. It has nothing to do with the baking. It has everything to do with the cleaning up.
I have learned a few other things over my years as baking overseer. As much as you think you want to make a homemade cookie dough and roll out out at church, you really don’t. What you want here is minimum mess. Because after the fun part is over, those teenagers melt into the pageant crowd never to be seen again. And you are left to clean the scraps of dough off the floors, walls and ceiling. So Mr. Pillsbury is my new favorite boyfriend around this time of year.
I’ve also learned that colored sugar apparently never goes bad if you keep it in the freezer. About five years ago, I made the mistake of buying some industrial sized containers of sugar sprinkles. Since red and green cookies are not in terribly high demand other than at Christmas, I just kept pulling them out every year for the pageant cookie bake. I think I have about four more years before I have to buy colored sugar again. Don’t tell.