This year I find myself realizing that not having a large family Christmas gathering leaves plenty of space to think about what we’re really celebrating at Christmas. To slow my heart to a more tempered pace this 2020 Christmas, I’m focusing on one of my favorite Christmas stories, Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
I wrote this blog post about it a few years ago. The post reminded me about all the things that make me love the story.
This classic story, written in 1972, never fails to remind me that I need to leave room in my heart to respond to Christmas as if I’d never heard the story of Christ’s birth before. And the story reminds me that even people I think don’t deserve to participate in the Christmas pageant might well be the people who will startle me into a new awareness of God’s great love.
The cigar-smoking children
As you will recall, the six Herdman children are the town’s bullies, who lie, cuss and smoke cigars–including the girls. They set fire to toolsheds and other buildings out of boredom. The one haven from the Herdmans for the rest of the town’s children is church, which holds no interest to the Herdmans.
That is, until one of them steals a kid’s dessert at school, and the child says, “That’s okay. I can eat all the desserts I want at Sunday school.” The next Sunday the Herdmans show up to case the joint for dessert.
The worst Christmas pageant ever
It happens to be the week of tryouts for the Christmas pageant, and the Herdmans end up with the lead roles. The town is aghast, and the mother who was so proud to have her baby play Jesus, withdraws her little one. Because of the Herdmans, the play isn’t rehearsed all the way through a single time. This is going to be the worst Christmas pageant ever!
But the Herdmans bring their own gifts for the newborn King at the actual pageant, and their authentically open hearts to the story they had never heard before causes everyone to see it afresh.
What makes this story a classic?
The Herdmans and their antics are fun. But the innocent way the rest of the town falls into their control is downright funny.
These wayward kids, who seem so tough, remind all of us not to prejudge whose heart is open to the Gospel. This 96-page story convicts the reader about his or her ideas of who is worthy to hold baby Jesus.
The sweet truth of what makes Christmas the best holiday ever (after Easter, of course).
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever brings us round to the essence of Christmas in so many ways. It takes aspects of it that we easily ritualize and draws us up short.
What’s your favorite Christmas classic and why? What about the writing makes it a winner?
What makes a story a classic? Click to Tweet
Why The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a classic story. Click to Tweet
I’ll have to read this one!
My take on making it the best Christmas ever…
We need Conumer Christmas,
a mad gift-giving day
with the vital difference
of giving all away.
If, perhaps, we might adopt
a Syrian refugee
who life has been so harshly chopped
by war’s fell tyranny,
we could show the qualities
of love placed in our heart
by the sorrows and the glories
of Christ, and play our part
in sharing with the Least of These
to make of life the Sign of Peace.
We wish you an yours a Happy Christmas, janet, and also to everyone at Books and Such, and all the members of this community.
God bless us, every one!
Kristen Joy Wilks
This is such a favorite for me, too! I think I already wrote this on Rachel’s blog post, but when I was a little girl celebrating Christmas at my maternal grandparent’s house, we stayed up late one Christmas Eve and each adult in the room took a turn reading a chapter until we finished late that night. I remember such a sacred sense of awe as the story concluded. So much so, that when I read it again when I was older, I was startled to see what a simple story it was. Simple, but still so profound. My husband bought me a copy the first year we were dating because my dad (whom we lost when I was a teen) had wanted to make reading it a Christmas Eve tradition … but never quite got around to doing it again. I read it out loud to my sons and husband almost every year (along with, A Christmas Carol and The Shepherd The Angel and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog) and this year I read the final chapter on Christmas morning right after we finished out advent reading and lit the Christ Candle at the center of our wreath. I love how that book mixes the hilarious and the sacred all together and at once. That is how life is, hilarious, painful, and yet still holy. Thank you for reminding me what it is that I love about that book, especially that bit about who is good enough to be holding baby Jesus, wow!
Janet, I love The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and try to read it every Christmas! Thank you for reminding us of its very profound message!
Another of my favorite Christmas books is A Tale of three Trees by Angela Elwell Hunt. In picture-book beauty and simplicity, it tells the story of Jesus’ birth, ministry, and death and resurrection. It also shows how God’s love transforms our dreams to glorify Him!
I love, love, love this story and reread it every Christmas!