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Dear Perky,

Since I have two young children, I was asked to direct the annual Christmas program at our small church. I have never done anything like this and am worried that everything will go wrong. What can I do to make sure our presentation isn’t a disaster?

Newbie Director in North Dakota

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Dear Newbie,

I don’t envy you. Folks who have never done this sort of thing have no idea of what is involved. Buck knows how to work with a church board, the DS, a city zoning commission, and cranky church members, but never once has he tried to wrangle toddlers and pre-teens in a Christmas pageant. It really is like herding cats; except cats don’t wear tinsel halos or carry sticks.

Before selecting your main characters like Mary, Joseph, and the Wise Men, talk to the teachers of Sunday School classes. Usually, the children portraying these individuals have to stand still the longest. You don’t want boys or girls (mainly boys) pushing, laughing, or hitting while standing around the manger. Naturally, scratching and shuffling is to be expected.

I recall one pageant when Johnny Perryman, Victor Billings, and Dale Johnson (also known as “Moose”), were my Wise Men. In retrospect, it was a bad combination. Those scamps were in a side room off stage right when it came time for them to enter. Unfortunately, no one wanted to be the first to step onstage, so they did what rowdy little boys do. Moose was closest to the door, so they heaved him out. It was embarrassing having a Wise Man lying prostrate next to the manger, although some thought he was worshiping the “Baby.” The other boys (snickering and scratching) ceremoniously shuffled in bearing their gifts as Moose hoisted himself from the floor, eyes on the suspect Magi in a death stare.

Of course, you want the most laid back, well-behaved pre-teens to play “Mary” and “Joseph.” Quite often, these roles are difficult to fill because juniors (especially boys) are easily embarrassed. However, I found no shortage of mothers who wanted these “plum” roles for their daughters. Sally Mathers badgered me to the point of tears to select her 12-year-old Veronica as the “Blessed Virgin.” I finally relented. Unfortunately, Veronica was not as excited about playing the part as her mother. In fact, the child suffered from knee-knocking stage fright.

On the night of the presentation, mom and dad took Veronica to dinner at a fast food place after which she complained about not feeling well. Mom, of course, ignored this as simply pre-pageant jitters. Once on stage, everything was okay—for a while. Joseph stood straight as a rod on one side of the manger, while Veronica gazed lovingly into the baby’s face. Then it happened. Veronica’s countenance turned the slightest shade of green, then she ever so slightly burped, and proceeded to baptize the Holy Infant with what appeared to have once been a strawberry milkshake.

There’s a lot to be said for not using live babies in the role of “Jesus.”

Shepherds are a dime a dozen, but I encourage you to avoid the wild-eyed, antsy little boys. I used to provide short “staffs” (usually walking sticks) to my shepherds, but not anymore. Little guys can do a lot of damage with those things between the back of the sanctuary and the stage. Instead, I recommend you ask the parents to provide nice, soft stuffed lambs for their children. (Note: these can be launched like baseballs, but they won’t do a lot of damage if they strike an innocent bystander.)

One thing I’ve found that works to prevent behavior problems is a touch of sanctified bribery. On pageant night, I keep a bag of chocolate kisses close by. Most boys and girls will follow instructions (at least for a while) if they think there’s something in it for them. However, be aware. If your program is at night, too much chocolate might keep the children awake after the performance. Of course, by then they’ll be at home, so mom and dad can deal with it.

The easiest performers to cast (and my favorite part of any Christmas program) are the angels—tiny, rosy-cheeked toddlers in dinner roll shoes, gossamer wings, and crooked halos who rub their noses and amble around the nativity scene in wide-eyed simplicity. These are the real show-stealers. I think that’s because, in their sweet innocence, they remind us that, like them, Jesus came into our world as a baby—full of wonder, joy, and love. And that special love gives us something to truly celebrate at Christmas and every day of the year. Yes, just herd those sweet little “angels” onstage at the end, and folks will say, “It was the best pageant ever.”

Love,

Perky

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