For the past seven years I’ve been a pageant mom. Not the “Toddlers and Tiaras” type of pageant mom, or someone who knows about flippers and butt glue. I’m talking about the type of pageant mom who comes out of the woodwork right before Advent and whose job isn’t complete until Christmas Eve.
As the organizer of our church’s annual Christmas Pageant, my job is to cast the kids, wrangle the kids, and dress the kids. It’s that simple. When I started in this role I had higher aspirations. My inner theater geek thought I’d be turning it into a big production with updated costumes and sets. Then the reality of our small church and small budget hit. Not to mention the kids, who simply want to have a fun time portraying the story of Jesus’ birth. They didn’t want a big Broadway number, so who was I to interfere?
Like every job, the role has its learning curve. For starters, I had no idea that kid wrangling was such a major part of the job description. In fact had no idea what actually happened during pageant rehearsal. Most parents at our church are blissfully unaware of what goes on during the two hour rehearsal prior to the pageant. The first year that my daughters participated, we were told to leave them at the church and enjoy the next two kid-free hours. Remember, these are two hours on Christmas Eve. Two unencumbered hours to do anything parents want. It’s heaven.
Conversely, when I became a pageant mom and was suddenly supervising thirty young kids only hours before Santa’s arrival, it was hell. The first year I didn’t realize the error of handing shepherds and angels their respective crooks and star wands half an hour before the pageant began. The obvious sword fights taught me to hold onto props until the last possible moment.
I made a few small changes at the beginning beyond confiscating props, like allowing kids of any gender to select any role they want. There’s no reason a girl can’t be a wise man or a shepherd, or a boy can’t be an angel (ever heard of Gabriel?). While I was initially eager to make more changes, the kids taught me the need to keep it simple. Most of them have been doing the same pageant, with the same script, since they were three-year-old sheep. For most of them, it’s an enjoyable familiarity. They look forward to being able to move up in the ranks. While one year they may be cast as a shepherd, the next year they may graduate to wise man, or even a speaking narrator.
Some kids took to politicking for roles, Mary in particular. I learned quickly that there will always be a sense of guilt not casting someone for the coveted role, but that’s also part of life. I tried to convey the importance of supporting each other regardless of the role, and the recognize that there every person in the story has an important part to play. I remind them that without the sheep, the shepherds wouldn’t have been on that hill. Without the Innkeeper’s lack of rooms, Jesus might have been born in a comfy Holiday Inn, and then how would the wise men have gotten past the front desk? Every single person plays a big part, and we need every one of them to tell the entire story.
Over the past years I’m sure I haven’t seen it all. Yet I’ve certainly seen plenty, and most of it in full view of the families during the pageant: a black sheep who wandered back to his parents in the pews, someone not cast as Mary throwing a tantrum, Joseph insisting that he should be able to hold Jesus, the angel tiring of holding the Star and leaving it on the ground, Mary telling the sheep where to go, a wise man who felt the need to be a wise guy by requesting we inject some humor to the role.
Now as my daughters are older and I no longer know all of the young people in the parish, it’s time for me to pass the mantle to the next pageant mom (and dad). While some church pageants include adults and older children, ours is focused on the youngest youth. A handful of speaking roles are reserved for middle and high schoolers, but the biggest stars of the show are age three to ten. It’s time for someone who knows the young people to take over. It’s time for them to continue the tradition of letting our youngest parishioners tell the story, even with its occasional misfires. And consequently I’ll regain those two hours of “free” time on Christmas Eve.