December 24, 2004
The Christmas Pageant
Dan’s mother and step-father arrived to spend Christmas with us. We were thrilled to be able to spend the holidays with family, and to share our lives here with them. One of the first things we did was take them to Ndirande to see a Christmas pageant performed by some orphans.
There were no angels’costumes with tilted wings and drooping halos, no live sheep, no two-tone blue garb for Mary. No cardboard crowns adorned with glued on gems sat atop the wise men’s heads. In fact, there were no shepherds and no manger in this pageant. There were no costumes and no props, other than a tattered white baby doll wrapped in a homemade blanket. The play was not even performed on a stage with a curtain going up, or on a chancel decorated with poinsettias.
It was performed outside, under a cloudy sky between two run down buildings. It was performed in a language that I did not understand. I was not even sure who all the characters were. There was someone called “the chief.”At first I was puzzled as I watched, then, I was enchanted.
The orphans that were in the play were between the ages of four and seven. The chief turned out to be King Herod. He was flanked by his two soldiers who stood at attention at all times. He barked out orders in a loud, clear voice. Our translator, Ruth, told us that he was decreeing that a census should be taken. Then we saw Mary and Joseph walking to Bethlehem and the innkeeper turning them away. Finally, Mary sat down and was handed a baby by one of the caregivers. She and Joseph delivered their lines with great confidence and volume. After that, as the story progressed, children came and went and delivered their lines with great enthusiasm. Not one line was stumbled over or mumbled. This was the most well rehearsed pageant I have ever seen, the children knew their lines, their entrance and exit cues, and most importantly, they knew the Christmas story by heart.
All of us who were watching were in tears by the end of the performance. We had brought gifts for all of the orphans (stuffed animals, small toys, treats) that were all tied up in bags with ribbon, and presented these to the children, although we felt badly that we did not have enough for the neighborhood children who were in the audience. The children were thrilled with their Christmas presents, but they had given us the greatest gift. They let us see the Christmas story in a new and different way.
Sometimes as we hear about the star and wise men year after year, the tale becomes routine. Hearing it in a different language, performed by such poorly dressed young children brought it to life in a way that I never could have imagined. The wonder on the face of Mary as the angel spoke to her, the protectiveness of Joseph, and the earnestness of the delivery, all brought the story alive.
It was a gift that we will never forget.