Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Faith Works 12-20-08
Jeff Gill

A Scrap of the Pageant

She sat in the back of the now darkened sanctuary, watching the first few children come onto the lighted platform. It is Christmas Eve, and the beginning of the service tonight is a Christmas pageant, with costumed young people acting out the Christmas story.

Mothers with cameras filled the front pews, so she was content to be further back, even her grandchildren now adults, and mostly far away. The story was as familiar to her as her own life, from engagement to wedding to childbirth, though she didn’t have the memory of being Mary herself when she was the age of the kids on stage.

That old country church so long ago didn’t have the tradition of a Christmas pageant, but she’d gone to this church since her marriage. She’d been on the altar guild and with the mission circles and helped in the kitchen, and she’d made most of the costumes now appearing in the front of the church.

Hardly anyone here tonight would know that, she reflected. It’s been a long time since most of those were made, and they’ve held up well. Her gift for the Christ child, and he gets the honor, so she was content.

The angels were in wings that had been made more recently – angels are always hard on their wings. It looked like that foam sheet material, with sparkle edging, which made her think about what a sturdier set might be made from with materials available now. Her first set was wire frame with cheesecloth covers, and they lasted about four years, even with patching.

This year’s Mary walked to her place next to the manger, and set herself down on the stool that normally sat behind the pulpit for shorter speakers. The blue of her cowl was a bit faded, but the woman in the back row knew that you’d have to have seen it new to realize that the color had changed. Or maybe it was her eyes.

Either way, the flow of fabric and the gather at the waist still looked good, although she couldn’t help a small internal wince at seeing the young lady dressed as Mary had a black turtleneck on. Ah well!

Then they came out, and she squinted just a bit to watch for it. The magi, the “wise men three” as the hymns and carols say, if not the scripture. Three unique, brocaded, bejeweled, shining costumes. And for each, a unique headpiece, each not quite a crown, all seeking an eastern exoticness. Turban and fez and flared hat that her grandson accused her of stealing from the third Star Trek movie, but was a picture stuck in her memory of a great-aunt’s manger scene on a coffee table from years ago.

Like the costumes, the hats for the wise men were a bit over the top, with trim and edging filled with gold thread and fussy embroidery – she noted with satisfaction that all three looked as good as they had when new, even after (as she knew) they had been tossed about in the church hallway before the service began.

The turban had an alternating series of diagonal panels, all curving into the topknot. Half of the panels were a particular fabric of light blue and grey stripes, with just a touch of silver thread woven through a black line between the stripes.

When her husband died, she took months to finally sort through his clothes and set aside some for Goodwill, some for the family as mementos, and throw out much of the rest. There were a few items she kept for herself, and there was one shirt in blue and grey stripes that she couldn’t stand, so of course he wore it almost every Saturday. Now she couldn’t bear to part with it.

That year, now long past, they asked her if she could make new headpieces for the wise men to go with the costumes she had made earlier; there were crowns that had been used that went back to who knows what, but they were crumbling and shabby looking. Could she knock something together?

As she planned out her design, she saw that shirt in the closet, and then she saw it in the turban, on a young man, coming out each Christmas onto the platform at the church. Without hesitation she took it off the hanger and began to cut.

It was Christmas Eve again, and there he was again, the young man she married memorialized in a way no one but that one elderly woman in the back row would know . . . that woman, and the young man grown old and now sitting waiting for her, in a Pageant that began in Bethlehem.

She gazed on the scene, and that turban, and sat back content. Tomorrow was Christmas, and she had her gift already.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at

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