My first five years of school were spent in a two-room school with grades divided between two teachers, who were extremely proficient at “multi-tasking,” and believe me, this was long before computers were even heard of. The school ran first through eighth grade and each of the teachers taught all subjects to four grades each. Every Friday afternoon was a special treat because after “recess” – not physical education – we were allowed to put all our studies away and spend the remainder of the afternoon being creative in Art Class. Until, that is, about the beginning of November, when the teachers would have selected an appropriate Christmas pageant for that year and we would begin rehearsing music.
Within a short period of time we would have “try outs” for parts in the play and full rehearsal would begin. Following Thanksgiving we would rehearse every day for the last hour of the day and costume assignments would be sent home to our mothers who were responsible for either making the costumes themselves or finding someone who was proficient with a needle and thread to complete the task. All of this was at our parents’ expense, of course, because there was nothing in the school budget for anything like that. And everyone always contributed willingly and happily. No grumbling – everyone just did the best they could with what they had.
One pageant that sticks in my memory in particular was the year I had to dress up as a snowflake. There were nine of us, actually, all dressed in homemade tutus that our mothers had made. I can’t remember the name of the play at this point, but it had something to do with a snowman and Toyland. I can still remember how overheated the boy that had to sit inside the snowman costume would get. But believe me, he was the only one that was warm.
As I said, our school was a two room affair, so it certainly didn’t have an auditorium of any kind with a stage, let alone seating capacity for all the parents and family members that would come to attend these plays. So the pageants were always held in the Community Center – at that time called the Town Hall.
Now this building was OLD at THAT time. And as you can imagine the heating system was quite antiquated too. And this particular night the heating system felt like it was non-existent because I’m sure it must have been at least thirty degrees below zero. Insulation and weather stripping were unheard of items back then, and the kitchen area in back of the stage where all of the students who weren’t currently on stage had to stay and remain quiet, was just a wooden shell of 2x4s with some timber covering them to make outside walls. Of course the building had shifted over the years and things didn’t fit very tight anymore, and snow was blowing between the cracks, landing on the floor and it didn’t melt. It didn’t melt even though the mothers had all the burners going on the kitchen stove to try to take even a bit of the chill out of the air.
So there we stood, in our stocking feet and little tutus trying to keep from turning blue until it was our turn to make a stage entrance and do our little snowflake dance.
That's me on the far right with the big bow in my hair - not looking very happy probably because I'm rapidly turning into a popcicle. Note the one little gal, fourth from the left, who broke down and put her shoes on. Probably had frostbite on her toes.
Of course there was always a big celebration following the play – everyone who attended, whether they were a parent or just a spectator, brought a dish to share and a big potluck took place with more than enough food and Christmas goodies for everyone. Santa always made an appearance and handed out oranges or apples along with a bag of candy. Along about midnight everyone headed for home shouting lots of Merry Christmas wishes, and most kids were sound asleep long before their Dad’s drove the car into their driveway and had to carry the children into the house and tuck them into bed.
Now the church pageant was always very ethereal and mystical to me. Always done on a Sunday evening after dark by candlelight only. Of course there was the manger scene with all the wise men and angels, camels, donkeys, etc. We had animal costumes, and it was always a joke as to who was going to be the back half of the donkey. There was always one boy who WANTED to be the backside – his personality fit well, too. He must have known that and played up the part even better.
Rehearsal would take place for weeks every Saturday morning, sometimes for three hours at a time to make sure everyone got their parts right. In addition to music there were always a lot of speaking parts that had to be memorized. Of course there was always a lot of competition to see who would get to play the part of Mary. She was the center of the manger scene and really had it quite easy as she had very little to say. She just had to look pretty. One night poor Mary got sick on stage, apparently with the flu, because I remember vividly that she leaned over and heaved her guts out into the cradle!! I don’t remember what exactly happened after that, but I do remember that the show went on!!
By the time that Lovely Daughter reached school age, pageants of that sort, either religious or fantasy, weren’t allowed anymore. That’s about the time that political correctness became the “in” thing. There were always Christmas programs, but they consisted only of choir music, or instrumentals from the band and orchestra. I often think about how much anticipation and preparation fun was missed out on by the children of that era. All the hours of work that we looked forward to because we knew we were doing something very special, and wanted to do it the very best that we could so the audience would be impressed. And what a wonderful way for the community to work together and to put everyone into the holiday spirit what with all the preparation both in school, church and at home.
Those were the days . . .