The Denver Post wrote, "The book is outrageous, lively, funny and wonderful. The Christmas story takes on a strangely moving depth of meaning and shines through with a new brilliance."
As a retired Children's Choir Director, I could relate. Bathrobes, angel wings, arguments about who would be Mary are common in small church and Christian school's no budget Christmas programs. Fortunately, I never had to deal with six lying, stealing, cigar smoking Herdman kids.
Each year had it's challenges. Yet they had their blessings, too.
One year I named the most misbehaved child in our church to take the lead role. He had lots of lines to memorize and I had a special costume made for him. Everyone including his parents were upset. He was going to ruin everything!
This boy needed attention, approval and a challenge. He was very smart, and therefore, very bored. His behaviors resulted in negative attention and fostered more of the same. My challenge to him was coupled with the expectation that he wouldn't disappoint me. He played the part with no mistakes and no misbehaving. For a few minutes, he was in the limelight.
A few years later, my dream was being fulfilled: to have every age group involved in the musical. For a church of around 200, I managed nearly 100 playing a part in the pageant to a full sanctuary. But in the midst of organizing all this, 2 children begged to be included.
They came from a very poor home environment. So bad my Pastor would not allow me to visit them. Their grandmother brought them to Sunday School as often as she could convince their mother to let them go. They always arrived filthy, smelly, hitting, biting, screaming, fighting... and those were the good days. We worked with the grandmother. We bought a set of clothes for each boy. Grandma would pick them up on Saturday evening, give them a bath and feed them. After church, she removed the new clothes to wash for the next week. They returned home in the their dirty duds.
During this process, I was working with the youngest as his Sunday School teacher. The whole class burst into applause, the first time he shared a toy. We went to great lengths to award good behavior and over time it worked. He and his brother probably only received attention at home when they did something wrong.
But to have them standing for nearly an hour in front of the whole congregation? I sat with my choir and asked their assistance and understanding. Though reluctant at first, they agreed. We had a plan.
The plan isn't important. Neither is the fact that it was successful.
As I gave the downbeat to start, I saw someone slip into a pew at the last moment. It was their mother, who never had been inside a church nor had she seen her young sons dressed up and behaving well. She had the look of a bag lady-minus the bags, but had a radiant smile for her boys.
Children's musicals take lots of time and energy, but whether or not they remember their lines, they touch hearts no one else can reach.
Until I stopped driving, I attended a Christmas pageant every year. A tradition I miss, but it could be a new one for you!