Back in THE DAY, kids of all ages and abilities were forced to be part of the church Christmas pageant. Even if the kid could neither sing nor act, or was in the habit of wetting him or herself in public, he or she was still part of the pageant. And, of course, being part of the pageant meant endless days and hours of practice.
For four Saturdays from what seemed like six a.m. until eleven p.m. each time, 39 kids from our little church sat in hard seats, legs dangling to reach the floor, yelling and whacking each other until their individual times came to go on stage. Sitting in church for endless hours would have been unbearable except I got to sit next to my brother Spartacus which was hilarious because he would always make irreverent motions and farting sounds during the best Christmas songs (at least I think they were sounds). Although the director would call him out when being inappropriate, I’m convinced Spartacus’ mischievous smile and sense of humor made God Himself chuckle occasionally.
Most kids were stuck in the choir because back in THE DAY churches didn’t have sound systems so the audience couldn’t hear how poorly we sang and that most of us weren’t even singing the right song. We were also far enough back on the stage that people couldn’t see us wet ourselves. The best roles were The Holy Family (reserved for either upper class men who were nearing nine or ten years old, or for the pastor’s kids). Second best was to be a shepherd, angel, or wise man. I’m convinced the pageant director chose the second-best roles with a sense of irony or wishful thinking, which is why my brother and I, along with Larry, were asked to be wise men that year.
Now I was clueless about who the wise men even were in the story. I thought they were just rich shepherds with camels. “What, no shepherd’s staff to hit people with? What kind of outfit is this?” This was back in THE DAY when church and school kids weren’t asked the question, “Do you know what that means?” by parents or teachers. Good grief, if parents and teachers don’t know what it means, how do they expect an eight-year-old to know? The only question I was asked when I got home from practice was, “Did you wet yourself on stage again?”
Finally the night came for parents, grandparents, cousins, uncles and other old people I didn’t know, to come see the big production. I remember screwing up my lines, laughing at other kids who screwed up their lines, and getting a paper sack full of candy when it was all over. The paper sack always included home made popcorn balls because they took up a lot of space and made the sack look more full than it really was.
The beauty of the pageant was not how talented we were. In fact, the talented ones were hardly even noticed by the audience. What the audience did notice were the kids who screwed up their lines and wet themselves on stage. The awkward kids were the biggest hit of the show. The beauty of the Christmas pageant seemed to tell us that even God loved the misfit. And although I really sucked as a wise man, when it was all over I got handed a paper sack of candy just like everyone else. On the ride home I asked my parents if they liked the program. My dad smiled and said we should have been named “the three wise guys” instead.
Calvin G. Roso © December 2013