Ghosts of Christmas Plays Past

They were never Broadway productions but I have been in my share of Christmas plays in the past. Fortunately you won’t see them on social media, YouTube or any old dusty VHS tapes as far as I know. In fact, most of my Christmas play days pre-date the VCR anyway.

My “acting” experience occurred during my childhood growing up as a preacher’s kid and being “included” in many church Christmas plays during those years.  As a preacher’s kid, I didn’t have much of a choice.

I never had the starring role in any Christmas plays growing up.  I never played the role of Joseph but I did carry some Frankenscience really well one year as a Wise Man. Most of the plays I was either a shepherd or angel. Thank goodness I never had to sing a solo. I was part of the angelic host most of the time and was more than happy to blend in with the other voices.  I was good with not having a major role because I didn’t want to have to memorize those lines.

In most years the play was the retelling of the Biblical story. The script came directly from the Bible.  At some churches after the play the preacher would add his brief commentary to what we had just acted out then we would all get a bag of fruit and nuts.  At one church our Sunday School class exchanged gifts and I assure you I never got any gold, frankenscience or myrrh.  I remember one church where it was nearly a scandal when someone had the nerve to put up a Christmas tree in the church. Yes, that was a scandal. Fortunately, people moved on to something else when Santa Claus entered the building.  Shock!  Hersey!

Practices for a Christmas play was usually pretty chaotic.  It easily turned into joking around and gigglefests which often frustrated the play director.  Oddly enough, somehow it all came together on the night of the play.

There were some years when I was “volunteered” to direct the youth Christmas play. Then it was my job to manage the chaos and calm down the horseplay.  I don’t think I ever worked as hard as I did during those times. It was a challenge but very rewarding when the play was over and a success. One year I even wrote a script for the play. I always wanted to do the Christmas play different but still maintain the focus of what Christmas was about.

In later years, I became the person working the sound system, computer, projector and lights. Most of the time it was nothing more than to cue up a CD for the children to lip sync to the songs that were selected by the children’s director. I would stand at the console for long periods of time watching someone else try to maintain order.  One year during practice, one of the kids threw up during rehearsal and took out a few other kids in the process. Yes, it was a messy scene.  I leaned over to a parent in the audience and assured him that wasn’t part of the play.

Yes, it was always an experience where you never knew what to expect.

So, I have an appreciation for anyone who is in a Christmas play or directing a play. Parents will have their smartphones ready to record these memories for years to come. These plays are an important part of those memories.

Church Christmas plays are much more advanced and more of a production than they were back in my day.  Some churches even have live animals and try to recreate the scene of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth.  It has come a long way since I put on a bath robe for my role as a shepherd or conforming a bed sheet for the role as an angel.

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