51. No Planning Required

51. No Planning Required

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

No Planning Required

Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we’re here for something else besides ourselves.

~Eric Sevareid

“What do you mean, no rehearsal?” I asked. “You have to have a rehearsal, otherwise how will the children and the organizers of the Christmas pageant know what is expected of them and when?”

“Well, things operate differently in the north, but be assured that all will work out in the end and the show will go on.” was the answer.

My husband and I had only been in Iqaluit, Nunavut (Canada’s Arctic) for six months and I was still adjusting to life “north of 60.” Ron had been posted to St. Jude’s Cathedral as a first year student minister; and as I was already a volunteer Sunday school teacher, I asked if the children put on a pageant during the Christmas season. The priest-in-charge told me that the children of the community generally presented it at the 7 p.m. Christmas Eve service. When I told him I was interested in assisting he said, “By all means, it’s a great experience!”

A couple of weeks later I inquired as to when the first rehearsal was going to take place and the reply was “What rehearsal?” At first I thought I had heard wrong—but no, I hadn’t. I started getting stressed out… I’m a very organized person who likes to have everything in place well ahead of the actual event. “I can’t do this,” I thought. But, what could I do? I had already volunteered and it wouldn’t look good for the new minister’s wife to back out of something at the last minute. Like it or not, I had to go through with this.

As the countdown to Christmas began I kept asking leading questions about the pageant hoping to catch an indication of how it was actually carried off, but there were no clues. Two days before Christmas, I still saw no signs of preparation for the Christmas Eve service. There was nothing I could do at this point except “wait and see” as neither Ron nor I were in charge of anything. But, I kept thinking — “how can you put on a pageant without weeks of planning and rehearsing?”

December 24th arrived! It was Christmas Eve and three services were scheduled for the church that night. We were both looking forward to seeing how the services would all work out; but, still there was no word about the pageant or even if it was happening at this point. Maybe it got cancelled, I thought. I was hoping so because I had no idea of what was expected of me.

While wrapping Christmas gifts, I was listening to the radio. CBC Radio is a staple of community life north of 60 and everyone tunes in for the latest news. In both English and Inuktitut, they keep everyone informed as to what is happening in their particular community. It could be news of a blizzard blowing in, road closures, flight cancellations, school and business closings, or it could be good news such as someone’s birthday, the sealift ship arriving or other special events. Lo and behold, I heard an announcement that St. Jude’s Cathedral would be holding their annual Family Christmas Service with a presentation of The Nativity and if any child in the community would like to come and be part of it, just show up at the church at 6:30 p.m.! I couldn’t believe my ears! How on earth could you present a nativity with just anyone who showed up at the church? Some of these children would not be regular churchgoers and yet expected to act out The Nativity? And at 6:30 p.m. when the service was starting at 7 p.m.? All of a sudden I wanted no part of this fiasco, but it was too late to back out!

At six o’clock Ron and I went over to the church. The priest-in-charge was there and had brought out a huge box of clothing from the furnace room that was to be used to dress up the children. Another lady had volunteered to help me and our instructions were that as the children arrived, we were to choose who was to play a part by their age and whether or not they would fit into the costume! Any child that arrived late would have to be a shepherd or an angel as we had lots of white sheets. Once the children were dressed, it was our job to keep them quiet (that was a TALL TASK)! It was a scene of mass confusion and bedlam! Many children arrived at the church, but despite their enthusiasm to be part of the nativity scene, some were very shy and needed a hefty load of encouragement.

When the church was filled and it was time for the service to start, a few of the children got very nervous and decided they didn’t want to do it. We had to do some fast-talking to persuade some of them to stay in the play. With others, there was just no coaxing whatsoever. So, we sent them off to sit with their family while we did some fast recruiting for someone else to fill the spot. At this point, I still wasn’t convinced this method was going to work and I felt a huge headache coming on!

Finally, the service got started with a welcoming carol. A prayer was said, the candles were lit and then the organist started to play “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” That was the cue for Mary and Joseph to walk down the aisle toward the front of the church. There was no elaborate set, just a simple, wooden manger filled with straw, which was the central figure at the foot of the altar. Mary and Joseph made their way to the front of the church and stood behind the manger. The stage was set! With all eyes on a doll wrapped in swaddling clothes, the children made their way down the aisle at the appropriate time as the old carols told of shepherds watching their flocks on the hillsides, wise men on a quest following a star and angel choirs at midnight. When all were in place and the scene was set, a sign from the head angel indicated the lights were to be dimmed as the congregation joined the children in singing “Silent Night.”

It was very touching. Many people in the congregation were moved to tears as they watched The Nativity unfold in story and in song. I was now convinced that all the elaborate sets and costumes, weeks of planning and rehearsing, could not have made a statement like what we had just witnessed. The children’s faces were radiant from the unpretentious offering of love that they had given to make this happen.

It was truly a “holy night” and one that I felt so blessed to have been part of.

~Carolyn McLean

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