I’m starting to have second thoughts about church Christmas Pageants. Yes, I know, cute little kids in lamb ears and tails running around, slightly older kids herding them with shepherd’s crooks or strutting up the aisle carrying gold, frankincense, and myrrh, still others in wings and halos slipping down into their eyes, kids remembering lines, or maybe teens narrating so the kids don’t have to. It’s adorable, right?
Well, yeah. But we parents are frequently not. I’ve finally noticed the parental competition that goes into it all. I used to think maybe it was just me, but no, a lot of parents get really hung up on their kids getting just the right role. And a lot of churches must fall into patterns that parents then take as rules and then get their feelings hurt when the pattern falls apart just as their child should get to be the star.
Yesterday, a friend was complaining about her older teen not being in the pageant. Whether her complaint had merit is not what I’m concerned with here. It was her memories and mine that her story dredged up that got me to pondering it all.
She mentioned how her church had had the tradition of the oldest girl playing Mary but when it was her daughter’s rightful turn, someone else got the part instead. Two different girls over two different years, if I understood correctly. This reminded me of the first year we were in our current church. A friend’s daughter got the part of Mary over Jane and I felt a little bit jilted. I cynically wondered if my daughter would always be second fiddle simply because she was new.
I know there weren’t exclusionary motives behind the Mary selection that year. In all reality, only one girl can play Mary. And Jane was a solid foot taller than the boys. She would have made a rather strange Mary. Her friend fit more comfortably in that role while Jane was an outstanding head angel.
That memory led me to our previous church, where the coveted role was not Mary, but Baby Jesus. Yes, if there was an infant in the congregation, we had a real live baby play Jesus. Somewhere along the way, it became understood that the role went to the youngest baby. Jane started off the tradition, complete with a recording of her cries. When Daryl was born, also in October, he took his turn.
But when Hal joined the world just two months before Christmas, he was overlooked for the role. Some of the other parents had felt that our family was hogging the Jesus role. It was given to a kid a few months older. I was miffed. How dare they change the tradition? That was my child’s role by right.
It was ridiculous, I realize that. But it was also real. Raw emotion. It’s the same competitiveness that makes parents worry when someone else’s kid talks first or walks first or potty trains early. Some sense of validation and spotlight.
I wish I could say I’m beyond all that now. Given some time, I can let it go, but my gut instinct is one of indignation and a desire for my child to have an important role. Fact is, though, that there are only so many parts. A kid gets or doesn’t get a part for a variety of reasons. None of them, I would wager, is something that should be taken personally.
Besides, while we all clamber to make sure our kid is Mary or Joseph or Baby Jesus or the biggest speaking part, it is always always all the sheep running around that steal the show. Every time. That leftover role that gets handed to the littlest ones who can’t be counted on to recite a line or to go where directed. The role that gets handed to any kid that shows up that night, having missed all the rehearsals. That’s the role that makes the audience laugh. That makes the audience fall in love. That makes the audience think, Hey. Maybe this Christmas Pageant thing isn’t so bad after all. Just look at them! I can’t wait to see what we come up with next year.