Christmas pageants begin – and end – many acting careers

By Tom West

The season is upon us. It’s one of drama. It’s high in tension. It’s full of excitement. Yes, I’m talking about the children’s Christmas pageants being held over the next few weeks at virtually every church in America. Christmas pageants are significant because for most of us they are the beginning – and often the end – of our acting careers.

My own experiences are threefold. My first pageant was not held in a church, but in a neighbor’s basement, which at the time was the neighbor’s entire house. The actors for the Nativity scene assembled in the kitchen while the adults gathered in the living room. My best friend and I were four or five years old, and thus drafted as shepherds by the director, who was a third- or fourth-grader. Shepherds, as those of you who know the Nativity story can attest, appear early in the show. We came on stage with our crooks in our hands, stared at the Baby Jesus in the manger for our full attention spans of five or 10 seconds, and then exited stage left.

We couldn’t go back to the kitchen because all the other actors were there, so we stood behind the adults next to the door to the garage. Next to the door was a light switch. After five minutes of having nothing to do, we started nudging each other, and then noticed the switch. I no longer remember whose idea it was, but we both agreed it would be a good one if we flipped it. We did so, casting a room with about a dozen adults and a dozen more children into pitch blackness. Amid the shrieks and shouts to turn the lights back on, the solemn mood evaporated. It took a while for the neighbor girl to forgive us, even though my friend was her brother.

A few years later, about third grade, I received a promotion at church, being chosen to be a wise man. The great thing about it, from a third-grader’s point of view, was that we had actual beards glued to our faces. This was at a time when Elvis Presley was the most popular man in America, at least among the 18 and under set. I thought that, at the end of the pageant, I could have my mother remove most of the beard but leave the sideburns. I was certain that the esteem in which my third grade friends held me would rise immeasurably if I came to school the next day looking like Elvis.

As it turned out, rubbing alcohol was needed to remove the beards, with the emphasis more on the rubbing than the alcohol. While I warned my mother repeatedly not to take too much off, she reassured me that she would leave some on both sides. Finally, I asked to look in a mirror to see how she was doing.

Most of the beard was still in place on one side, but on the other, only a half inch sideburn was left. I shrieked that she had taken too much off. A half-inch sideburn on a third-grader may have been noticeable, but it would hardly have been impressive.

Then my mother said that she could still make the other side longer. However, I was on to her, and just because I was in third grade, I wasn’t stupid. I knew that two sideburns would make me look like Elvis, but one sideburn would make me look like a dork.

I had no choice but to have her take the entire beard off.However, it was not a public embarrassment. That came the next year.

My last Christmas pageant, I was again a shepherd. This involved wearing my bathrobe, a towel on my head and bare feet.

We walked down the aisle of the sanctuary, stopping occasionally to act sort of afraid of the angel proclaiming the good news. Eventually, we reached the altar, where we honored the Baby Jesus and then moved off to the side.

Like most Christmas pageants, this one was a musical. The actors didn’t sing, but the choir interspersed the drama with songs. Another neighbor girl, an eighth-grader, different from the one mentioned above, played the Virgin Mary. The choir had just begun singing “Away in the Manger,” and the audience was mostly looking at it.

Seeing this, Mary looked at me, her hand came out from underneath her shawl and she pointed at my feet. Then she briefly held her nose between thumb and forefinger.

I suspect it is incidents like these that cut short many budding thespian careers.


This Wednesday is St. Nick Night, a new promotion in Pierz. If you want to get in the holiday mood, be there between 4 and 8 p.m. for horsedrawn trolley rides, luminaries, caroling, a live Nativity scene and Santa. Stores will be open for holiday shopping, and it should be a great time to greet friends in the community.

Tom West is the editor/general manager of the Record. Reach him by calling 632-2345 or e-mail

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