A Very Mary Christmas

December 15, 2015 | Christmas, Tell His Story | 52 comments

Feet dangling in patent-leather, I sat on the polished pew while the Christmas pageant director assigned parts. I held my breath, waiting as she called names. I dreaded this moment, for I knew I’d be instructed to serve as a sheep or cow. Each year, the director would assure us that those lowing, humble barn-dwellers were “important” pieces of the story.

I didn’t buy it. I wanted to be Mary.

shepherds

 

angels2

 

nativity1

As I grew older, I was upgraded from beast to human. In this more esteemed role, I had the opportunity to deliver real lines, beyond the scripted moo-ing. We didn’t have enough boys in church to fill all the male roles, so I regularly stood in as a king or a shepherd, wearing an itchy gunny sack. One year, I did get to wear white wings, proclaiming into the church microphone: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people!”

But even as an angel of the Lord Most High, I secretly pined to be tapped as Mary, Mother of God. This was every Sunday School girl’s dream. Each year, the highly favored one would ride down the red-carpeted aisle on a cardboard donkey. She wore a flowing gown, which the director ceremoniously retrieved from the church’s costume vault only once a year. Mary never had lines to memorize. Her only job was to look good.

Each year, Mary seemed to glow, outshining even the glittery star overhead. She radiated in that magical moment when, at the end of the play, everyone in the pews would rise up, gripping candles, to sing “Silent Night” in a circle.

I watched Mary as I mouthed the words to the song. She sat center-stage by the wooden communion rail, while gazing upon the babe in arms. Some years, we had a real-live baby as our Jesus. Mostly, though, we used a doll from the nursery toy-bin. We wrapped it in swaddling clothes — threadbare dishtowels from the church-basement kitchen.

Often, a pretty blonde was christened as Mary. Even at a young age, I knew this was historically inaccurate. But no one seemed to mind in our town, where Swedish descendants bore names like Larson and Anderson. Mary usually matched our toy-box Jesus — a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl doll with magic marker drawn on the back of her head.

Then, behold, in 1982, the heavens opened, and I witnessed my very own Christmas miracle: I was called forth from the pew.

“Jennifer?” she asked. “Would you be willing to serve as our Mary this year?”

I nodded a shy yes, but on the inside, I belted out the Magnificat.

I remember it still, draping a white cloth around my brunette head, then walking down the aisle of my dimly-lit church. I remember cradling the baby in swaddling dishtowels, and hearing everyone laugh when one of the wee kings in a cardboard crown shouted out: “Hi, Mom!” A shepherd stretched out on the step for a long winter’s rest. Beside me, the cattle were lowing and adjusting brown-felt ears. And behind me, I sensed a great company of the heavenly host—all dressed in holey bed sheets. Or maybe they were holy.

Then came the moment for the final number, the hallowed singing of “Silent Night.” A great hush fell over the room, as the congregants rose to their feet and lit candles by passing a flame around the circle.

The pianist began, then voices rose in unison:

Round ‘yon virgin, Mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild

And that’s when it happened. At the front of a tiny Iowa church — where I sat in a sheet-covered folding chair — Mary’s story was becoming my own. I looked at the cradled babe, with bits of hay snared in blonde locks. I was beginning to realize, right then, who the real star of this Christmas show was.

I turned my head a bit, bowing my chin lower as voices swelled higher. I hoped no one would notice a single tear sliding down my cheek. I — the holder of the Christ-child — was discovering what those words in the story meant, about a young girl treasuring up all these things, and pondering them in her heart.

Come Let Us Adore Him

 

Tell me: Did you participate in Christmas pageants as a child? Were you ever a Mary? Or a baby Jesus? What "character" do you most relate to today?

by | December 15, 2015 | Christmas, Tell His Story | 52 comments

52 Comments

  1. Michelle DeRusha

    The shepherds are my faves, of course, wanderer that I am. 🙂 But hey, the shepherds DID have an important role – they were the ones who spread the Good News of our Savior’s birth, right? I never actually participated in a pageant, though. Sweet post, Jennifer.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Right? That’s such a beautiful part of the Christmas story. The misfits are the unlikely spreaders of Good News. Gives us all hope. From one spiritual misfit to another, Merry Christmas, my friend.

      Reply
  2. Kathy/holyvacationqueen.com

    this is so beautiful, what a sweet memory and way to make the Christmas story come alive! Love the photos, too!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Thank you so much, Kathy. The photos were from a Christmas photo-shoot that we had for our little country church here a few years ago.

      Reply
  3. Lynn D. Morrissey

    this is so lovely, Jennifer, and you would make the perfect Mary. (And I certainly realize you bear no resemblance to a Herdsman, but somehow the scenario you paint and your tear-glistening cheek reminds me of the young Herdsman girl who played Mary and whose realization at the holiness of it all made the worst Christmas pageant, the best)! Thank you for sharing yet another piece of your heart. I wish I could share childhood memories. For some reason, I’ve not many of them.
    Bless you, dear one, and Merry Christmas!
    Love
    Lynn
    PS Michael always gets to play a shepherd or king; it’s not his acting ability, I assure you, that lands him these coveted roles. He has a beard and gets those parts by default.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Oh Lynn, Thanks for your sweet comment. I remember those tears well. I remember turning my face a bit, a little bit embarrassed about it all.

      I hope you have a most lovely Christmas. We thoroughly enjoyed your Christmas letter.

      Reply
  4. Sue Donaldson

    I think everyone wants your childhood, jennifer! love the photos and the hopes and dreams fulfilled. I did shed a tear just now. the wonder continues. blessings on you and your Iowan brood.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      You know, Sue, I sometimes forget how magical my childhood was. Thanks for the reminder. I don’t want to take it for granted.

      Reply
  5. Trudy Den Hoed

    What a sweet memory, Jennifer! I love how God began to show you “who the real star of this Christmas show was.” May we with Mary ponder these treasures in our hearts! Have a joy-filled Christmas!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      You, too, Trudy. May your Christmas be filled with light, hope and love — sprinkled all across your 2016.

      Reply
  6. Mary

    Lovely memory! There is nothing like being in that starring role only to have God lightly tap us on the shoulder to remind us who the story is really about. I loved when you shared the year you were picked and inside you were belting the “Magnificat”. Oh to be called by God and to sing loudly in praise! What a gorgeous song it would be!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Bless you, friend! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. xo

      Reply
  7. Nannette Elkins

    So precious! I was never chosen to be Mary that I know of anyway 🙂 so long ago! But My Three Sons have played various parts down through the years. May we all ponder these things in our hearts and not forget the beauty of Christmas ♥

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Pondering and treasuring with you, Nannette. xo

      Reply
  8. Anita

    Not being blonde, I know exactly what you mean about never getting picked to play the part of Mary ;). I think the Christmas story became most real to me when I found myself holding my own infant on her first Christmas. I started really worrying about Mary and how in the world she survived with an infant with no modern convienences (imagine, no diaper wraps or disposables!). Not only did she hold the Savior of the world, she had so. much. work. How does one balance the holy and the mundane? If Mary could do it, so could I, because every child is a gift from the Holy One.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Right? I saw a funny cartoon on FB this morning. You’ll get a kick out of it, Anita. Let’s see if I can post it here….

      Reply
      • Anita

        Bahahaha! I LOVE this!

        Reply
  9. Betsy Cruz

    What a beautiful story. I was never chosen to be Mary (We hardly went to church), but I remember when my daughter got to do it. She was 9 years old and so nervous about it. Isn’t it amazing how we can look back and see how God touched us in so many ways to prepare our hearts for him, like he touched you back in that 1982 Christmas pageant?

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Indeed! Thanks for stopping by, friend.

      Reply
  10. Christine Duncan

    I love to sing, so when I was younger, I didn’t want the “silent” part, LOL. But I still had to figure out that the nativity was not about me… it was about a priceless gift with skin on. I think in little ways, and big, I’m still learning this down deep… so easy to be distracted by the less-than-holy aspects of the holidays.
    Love this beautiful and touching reminder, Jennifer! And so grateful for you!
    Consider it shared. Have a super week!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Oh Christine … You are precious. Thanks for sharing. Have a most blessed season. xo

      Reply
  11. Lois Flowers

    Jennifer, I’m so glad you finally got to be Mary, and that it was such a tender experience for you! I don’t recall ever being in a pageant, but the character from the Christmas story that I most relate to would have to be Elizabeth. (She also happens to be the subject of my post in your linkup today.) She is such an example to me of someone who didn’t let the deep disappointments of her life keep her from praising God. Blessings to you this Christmas!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Ah, yes! So true. Thanks for sharing, Lois. May you have a lovely Christmas season that sprinkles itself all over the year ahead.

      Reply
  12. Dawn

    We actually did not go to church when I was young and the only Christmas Pageant I remember was when my grandmother took me to watch my cousins churches rendition of ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’ and loving how the angels all put Vaseline on their faces to be shiny. 🙂
    Later my nephews and then my children had Christmas Programs at church and I, a grown woman, secretly wanted to be Mary, too, Jennifer, but I loved watching them perform and sing songs to the King.

    Blessings,
    Dawn

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      I am still wanting to be Mary — not so secretly. 🙂 … Thanks for sharing, my friend. A joy to have you here. Merry Christmas. I hope your season is filled with peace and love.

      Reply
  13. Karlene Arthur

    As a pastor’s daughter, I was in my fair share of Christmas pageants. I was very shy, so speaking parts were not my thing. I do remember playing Mary one year and I can so relate to your story.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Hi Karlene,

      My younger daughter was like you — preferred the non-speaking parts. But as she’s gotten older, she is enjoying it more and actually likes the speaking parts. This year, she was a talking pig, which her pig-farmer father thoroughly enjoyed! 🙂

      Reply
  14. Anna Smit

    Love the end of your story, Jennifer. Such wonder in your words. I’m so glad you got to play Mary and that it blessed you in doing so.

    We never had any pageants. The Christmases I remember as a child were ones where we gathered in a little wooden church with my grandparents to sing hymns together: so different to the church we went to, but so special. I remember the sounds, the scents, the elderly in the pews and the hugs. Something special about a little country church.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      How magical! Have you ever been able to go back to that little wooden church? Is it still standing?

      Reply
      • Anna Smit

        I think it still is…but we haven’t been back.

        Reply
  15. Tara Ulrich

    Oh yes. We had our pageant this past weekend so your post was very timely and made me smile. I think all of us as little girls yearned to be Mary. I know I did.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Thanks for sharing, Tara! Our kids had their Christmas program a week ago, and it flooded me with memories of my own. We had a real-live baby this year. 🙂 Often, it’s a doll.

      Reply
  16. Lori Schumaker

    Hi Jennifer 🙂 I had a heart to sing so whatever part would allow me to praise Him with my voice, was the part I hoped for each year!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      That’s wonderful, Lori. Do you do much Christmas caroling? I haven’t caroled yet this year, but that’s always a seasonal highlight.

      Reply
  17. Leah Adams

    Oh goodness…you nearly had me in tears! Our church did not do Christmas plays when I was a kid, so I totally missed out on all that. What a beautiful post, Jennifer!!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Leah! So sorry you missed out on the fun of Christmas plays. It’s not too late. #KidAtHeart

      Reply
  18. Kris Camealy

    oh those beloved Christmas pageant memories…you have me thinking about my own experiences in them growing up. I love how God touched your heart with tenderness when He invited you to play the role you had long-wanted. He’s so good to minister to us that way.
    XO

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      It’s a very special memory, and any time I walk back into that church (though it’s been a good two or three years now), it all comes rushing back. Do you still have Christmas pageants, for your kiddos?

      Reply
  19. Mary Flaherty

    oh what a beautiful story!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Thanks so much, Mary!

      Reply
  20. JViola79

    Jennifer, I loved this. It is amazing what is planted in our hearts as children through those Christmas pageants. Thank you so much for sharing your memories with us as it prompted me to think of my own childhood pageants. Grateful for my memories this morning!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      I hope you’re having a lovely season and, like Mary, that you’re treasuring it all up in your heart.

      Reply
  21. June

    Beautiful, Jennifer! {you can read that with, or without the comma} I have a vague memory of being Mary one year. Yup, a blond-haired, green-eyed, very historically inaccurate version – I think, to my mother’s horror, that I had even painted my nails red, lol! I don’t have the memory of wonder that you do, that came later in life for me, but I am oh, so thankful to still have it now. Blessings on your advent!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Well bless your heart, Beautiful June. 🙂

      That memory is so etched in my mind. And I am reminded of it every year, because we attend a small country church where the Christmas pageant is very much like the ones we held in our small-town church.

      Blessings to you this season.

      Reply
  22. Susan

    An epiphany moment for a little girl – beautiful memory. As an adult about 20 years ago I got to play Mary at the foot of the cross and keening over Jesus’ dead body – a role that changed me deep inside. I literally felt the sword pierce my heart that Simeon prophesied. These Christmas/Resurrection pageants change lives and that is why year after year we must make towel turbans, pin on angel wings, and coat catsup on hands and sides – it is the power of imagery and it can stir hearts eternally. Great post.

    Reply
  23. Nancy Ruegg

    Such a heart-touching story. And what a tender-hearted child you were, Jennifer, to allow the significance of who Jesus really was to penetrate through the nerves, excitement, and self-consciousness that plague performers of all ages!

    Reply
  24. Janis Van Keuren

    I feel like I have experienced the real meaning of Christmas as I read your words, Jennifer. So touching, so beautiful. The freshness, the innocence of when we behold “who the real star is.” And if we just remember that at Christmas, there would be so much less chaos and more peace in our hearts.
    Blessings,
    Janis

    Reply
  25. Dolly @ Soulstops.com

    Jennifer,

    Wishing you and your family a very blessed Christmas with the “real star” of Christmas 🙂

    Reply
  26. Elizabeth Stewart

    God was drawing your tender heart to Himself even as a young girl. Oh, how He loves!

    Reply
  27. Lux @ About Life and Love

    Oh, don’t we all wanted to be Mary in the story. I wasn’t given that role too. I was Elizabeth during the Visitation. 😛

    So nice to remember those times.

    Have a wonderful weekend and a jolly Christmas. 🙂

    Reply
  28. Constance Ann Morrison

    I didn’t experience Christmas pageants until I was an adult. The year my few-months-old grandson played baby Jesus made the Incarnation very real. I was moved to tears as I realized the creator of the universe chose to be Immanuel, “God with us,” and laid aside his glory to be an infant.

    Reply
  29. Alden Loveshade

    I feel like I went to the same church as a child. Like you and many others, we had the same basic pageant, although in my case I remember moving up from something or other (a sheep maybe) to shepherd to one of the three kings and then finally to Joseph.

    As an adult I’ve played Judas and Jesus in Easter and other productions, and a few times played Scrooge in a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol.” Even though Scrooge is perhaps my favorite role, I remember being Joseph and looking at Mary. For me, it was looking at the girl playing Mary that reached me. I felt the responsibility of being Joseph, and realized that he loved and cared for Mary and the baby Jesus, but had to wonder: How can I possibly be responsible for something so incredibly important?

    By the way, I cried when I read this.

    Reply

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