The best children’s books are the ones that both kids and adults want to read again and again. Besides a good story, these books are multilayered with meaning so each reading seems to reveal something new.
It is not that often, though, that a children’s play is both entertaining and seeped in meaning for both parents and children. San Antonio’s Magik Theater’s production of the Best Christmas Pageant Ever successfully accomplishes that feat.
Based on the classic novel by Barbara Robinson, the Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a story of a church that puts on an annual Christmas pageant that is successful mainly because it is the same every year. . .and the Herdsmans, unruly children of the town, don’t participate.
Of course, the Herdsmans, hearing of Sunday school and the pageant and the possibility of unlimited dessert, take over the very important cast of characters for the pageant. Chaos, hurt feelings, and jealousy ensues. Not great emotions for the retelling of the Greatest Story Ever Told.
While everyone thinks the pageant is doomed to failure, transformation, as lovely and moving as a religious experience, unfolds and it becomes the BEST Christmas pageant ever.
One of my favorite scenes of this play is when one of the “good” children complains that the Herdsman can’t be Mary and Joseph because they are so dirty and their clothes aren’t right. The father, with a remarkable Gregory Peck accent, points out that, as a matter-of-fact, Mary and Joseph, refugees in Bethlehem, knowing no one, having no where to stay and about to become new parents any day, were probably not much different than the Herdsman children: dirty, scared and very out-of-place.
The play’s ending is gorgeous and it takes an adult to understand the deeply moving scene where Imogene Herdsman, portraying Mary the mother of Jesus, cries quietly on stage as she lovingly holds the baby.
After the play, the main question that seemed to baffle young audience members was why Imogene, a very rough and tough girl, would be crying. Even on our drive home, as everyone was sharing their favorite part of the play, Maddie asked why Imogene was crying. I tried to talk about what it feels like to be asked to be something that you never even imagined was possible: to be Mary, the mother of Jesus.
As we debate (and possibly sign petitions for or against) stores being open on Thanksgiving, aren’t we actually playing into the manufactured focus of this season being about shopping? We easily lose sight, like the children in the play, of the real qualities of this season of blessing and peace and goodwill.
Take your children to see the Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I doubt that much will put you in the holiday spirit like this play.