Planning the Pageant

I always look forward to the MPR airing of the Festival of Nine Lessons  Carols from Kings College in Cambridge, England.   I have been in the chapel at Kings on a couple of occasions and sat in the choir stalls next the choir during an Evensong service.  This Sunday, our church is having its second annual performance of  Lessons and Carols, and I am really excited because I get to plan it.

Our bell choir director asked me to finalize the program for the service again this year.  She is more interested in the music than the lessons, and you have to take both into consideration when you plan the service.  The hymns and musical numbers need to reflect the meaning of the lessons. For example, the first lesson is about the Adam and Eve story, and the music that follows needs to reflect the Fall.  Hence, the musical number is will be that of the choir singing Lost in the Night, a mournful and serious (but kind of hopeful) Finnish Christmas carol.  The Kings service always starts out with a lone boy soprano singing the first verse, acapella, of Once in Royal David’s City.  We don’t have any boy sopranos, but we have a female high school Junior who has a pure and high voice and who is willing to give it a try.  Local people from other denominations will read the lessons, and our bell choir and vocal choir will perform songs.

Our church was founded by German immigrants, and is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  I am of German ancestry, but most of my relatives were members of the  Missouri Synod Lutheran Church.  For reasons too complicated to go into now, I was raised in a Norwegian Lutheran Church.  I adore Scandinavian hymns, and planning our Lessons and Carols gave me complete control over the hymns that the congregation will sing at the service.  I made a point of finding as many appropriate Scandinavian hymns as I could. These people need to be educated.

We will sing Swedish,  Norwegian, and Danish Christmas carols, ones I  loved as a child, but none of which we sing regularly in our church. Some include:

Bright and Glorious is the Sky (In Danish, De Jlig Er Den Himmel Bla)

Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers (In Swedish Haf Trones Lamp Fardig)

Savior of the Nations, Come (A German hymn but popular in Norway)

I suppose this is sort of self-serving, but it is fun, and no one has complained yet.

What pageantry have you been a part of?  What are your  favorite carols?



31 thoughts on “Planning the Pageant”

  1. Wonderful, Renee, sounds like an assignment right up your alley. (Allow me one small correction to the Danish hymn, It’s “Dejlig er den himmel blå.” ) It’s a hymn that has been a popular part of Danish Christmas tradition as long as I can remember. Still know all words by heart. Here it is, performed by DR Pigekor, the Danish Radio Girlchoir:

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  2. Elementary schools in the 1950s presented pageants based on the biblical story of Christmas. I’m not sure that still happens.

    My father told me, when I was four, that I “couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.” He might have been premature. Perhaps I just needed to learn how to sing. We’ll never know. His judgement became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I participated in the pageants my school presented, but I never sang a note out loud. To avoid offending others, I lip-synched all the carols . . . a sort of Christmas pageant Milli Vanilli.

    Our junior high music teacher, a positive thinking woman named Mrs. Moore, didn’t believe I couldn’t sing. “Everyone can sing,” she said, and then asked me to sing a carol. When I was done, Mrs. Moore was silent and thoughtful. Then, smiling broadly, she said, “There is a perfect role for you in our pageant, Steve. You can be our narrator!”

    And I was. Those are sweet memories now.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. My confidence in my ability to sing has taken a serious hit the last couple of days. Within i few seconds of me opening my mouth to sing along with a song on Youtube, Martha has come running to see if I was all right. After reassuring herself that I’m fine, she saunters off, but if I persist, she comes back and nudges me to stop. She clearly doesn’t enjoy my singing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. During my four years at the Catholic boarding school I always a participant in the annual Christmas pageant, most often as an angel! One year it was my favorite doll that was the baby Jesus. Once you put a diaper on, you couldn’t tell it was a girl doll.

    Which reminds me, did any of you see the video of a recent Christmas pageant somewhere in Tennessee where a little girl, playing a sheep, grabs the baby Jesus out of his crib and shows him off to the audience? Much hilarity erupts as a tangle between the sheep and Mary unfolds.
    Here’s a link to the story:

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Several years ago our Sunday school Christmas program featured the Kindergarten students in sheep costumes. The most notoriously naughty boy was given the only black sheep costume. He didn’t disappoint, and was himself in the front of the church.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I chose a Basque carol The Angel Gabriel From Heaven Came, with words by Sabine Baring-Gould, as well as On Christmas Night all Christians Sing, which is also known as The Sussex Carol. The Bell Choir will play Divinum Mysterium, aka Of the Father’s Love Begotten, and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I wasn’t aware before this that there is a certain mild animosity between our two organists, presumably over scheduling and stylistic issues. One plays everything the speed of a funeral dirge, no matter what. The other plays fast and dramatically. The latter is playing on Sunday.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I also have it on a Weavers CD and it’s called Star Carol there, as I believe it is on the version that was played on TLGMS (Bill Crofut singing it with the audience at a college concert). I believe Pete Seeger wrote the words and used the melody of an Italian christmas carol.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. That will be a beautiful service, Renee. I am also of German ancestry and went to a Catholic grade school. My sisters and I were part of a “modern” guitar group that performed at Sunday service every week when I was in middle school or so. It was fun and we introduced new energy and music to a stodgy old church.
    When we performed at Midnight mass on Christmas Eve, we did some extra special music. Of course, I love the classic Carols, but I really enjoyed “Calypso Noel” and some of the more interesting music we did. Can’t remember most of it now.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You will plan a wonderful pageant. You have the background, the mind and the energy to do it well. I’m interested in the act of planning a pageant. As a former wedding photographer, I’ve reflected on weddings a lot. One of my observations is that weddings are the first (and usually the last) occasion for people in our society to plan a pageant. It just isn’t something we commonly do. That is probably good and bad. Because we haven’t planned pageants before, the process is scary but interesting. But also because we lack experience, it is easy to make choices that look wrong in retrospect.

    I have to smile to remember The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I first encountered it as a book. It also exists as a YouTube video:

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Planning is interesting. I had to be sensitive to the various egos and commitment issues, from the Episcopal thespian who expects to read every year, to the conundrum of whether the vocal professors from the college are performing (I still don’t know).


  9. Denmark is a pretty secular country, but Danes love their traditions, including the Protestant hymns that they have sung for generations. N.F.S. Grundtvig and B.S. Ingemann are two Danes who penned words to Protestant hymns that remain popular and are very much part the Danish Christmas traditions to this day. “Dejlig er den himmel blå” (the hymn in the video above) was written by Grundtvig. This one “Julen har bragt velsignet bud” was penned by Ingemann; it may be my favorite:

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve run into a few Scandinavian carols that I really like: Nar Juldagsmorgon Glimmer (When Christmas Morn is Breaking ), and my grandma Sterling used to sing Nu At Det Luligen (Now It’s Christmas Again). I love Jesu Bambino, and everything on Joan Baez’s Christmas album “Noel”, and lots of other lesser known music including Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols.

    I hate O Tannenbaum, and not only because I’ve never found a decent translation – I don’t know why I don’t like it.

    My absolute favorite Christmas carol was on one of those Great Songs of Christmas albums put out in the ’60s. It’s a medley of a couple of lesser carols, plus the title one “Snow in the Street” which I’d never heard before. (It’s over once they start singing “Wassail Wassail…”)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m wondering, BiR, whether the Christmas song your grandma Sterling sing is a Mondegreen (a misheard lyric) or a typo? The actual title of that song is Nu är det Jul igen. I’m not trying to be a smartass or know-it-all, but I recall many songs from my childhood that I totally misunderstood the lyrics of. I’m thinking that perhaps because you didn’t understand Swedish (I’m making an assumption here) that you listened to the sound, and it sounded like Nu At Det Luligen to you. Just curious.

      Here’s one of my favorite Swedish carols:


      1. What a beautiful song, PJ.
        I just looked at the album (A Swedish Christmas, with Anne-Charlotte Harvey…) where I have this song – don’t know if the words are what Grandma sang, but the tune on the album is what my mom remembers.


  11. Sounds wonderful! My only pageant experience is through YA. When she was younger she took part in our First UU pageant for several years. The first year she was old enough (5), we talked about the pageant and I said “what do you want to be”. When she asked me what the options were I said “you can be an angel, a wise one, a shepherd…” She immediately piped up and said “Leopard!” I was sure she had misheard me, so I said “Shepherd?” Nope she meant leopard and wouldn’t be dissuaded. So I made her a little leopard costume – she was adorable. And this being a First UU pageant, she fit right in!

    She was also Mulan for two years straight in this pageant (as one of the wise ones!) An angel one year and her last year, an angel on wheels (baby Jesus delivered by APS [Angel Postal Service] on roller skates and scooters).

    Liked by 1 person

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