For my money, a slightly wicked pageant angel is the best kind.
The Christmas Pageant is almost always my favorite part of Christmas. This year, it was even better, because two of my godchildren were in it. My godson was a raccoon, you know, gathered around the stable with the lions and bunnies and cows. My goddaughter was one of the Herald Angels, mainly because the Herald Angels only come in and sing the last song. They’re three years old. They can’t handle much more stage time than that.
She was sitting on my lap wearing a gingerbread cookie Christmas dress before the pageant, holding my unlit candle. “FIRE,” she said, looking a little too interested. “Is there going to be fire?” She smiled gleefully and got the crazy eyes. “Those are for adults,” said her mother, as Sarah flung her candle several pews away and used the candle holder as a trumpet. Her mother looked at me. “I hope she walks down the aisle,” she said. “I hope she doesn’t,” I snickered.
The pageant was great. The kids do the whole thing, two hundred of them. There are solos and readings and ballerinas and wise men who can’t carry a tune, and there’s always a little tiny person dressed as a donkey who toddles in behind Mary and Joseph. It’s spectacular. When they get to the appropriate moment, all the older angels (the Multitude of the Heavenly Host, to be specific) pop up in the choir loft and shout “GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST AND ON EARTH PEACE GOODWILL TOWARDS MEN.” They spend the rest of the pageant pulling tinsel off of their halos and sprinkling it down onto the audience when they think nobody is looking. It’s loud. It’s raucous. It is one of the sincerest expressions of joy you’ll ever see.
The stable animals did great, and so did the Herald Angels. They came out at the end and sang “Away in a Manger.” Sarah waved extravagantly and behaved exactly as a pageant angel should, and then we lit our candles and the church went dark and we sang Silent Night by candlelight. Afterwards there was a cookie party. It was the biggest explosion of Christmas mayhem I’ve seen since last year.
I can’t even talk about what happened this week in Connecticut, y’all. I can’t watch the coverage, I can’t bear to hear the details. I can’t bear to think about the children, the teachers, the parents, the community. I’m not a parent and can’t even speak to what that feels like, but I was a teacher for a decade, and I know what it feels like to be charged with keeping other people’s children safe. In my decade as a teacher, twice I had kids with weapons in their lockers. They weren’t going to hurt anyone. It was a gang initiation. They were kids I loved and trusted, and also had access to guns. The newspaper reported one of those as an “unloaded gun,” although my principal watched the police officer pop four bullets out of the clip himself. I never understood who was helped by the “unloaded gun” report. Twice I ended up in an ambulance with students, which was terrifying, but both turned out to be fine. In those last few years of teaching, we were put on lockdown more times than I can count. There was a special school system code; there would be a veiled announcement over the intercom indicating whether the danger was inside the building and we had to go out, or outside the building and we had to stay in. I don’t know what they do now. It’s probably gotten much stricter. The world doesn’t feel as safe as it used to, although in many ways it’s so much safer. Nobody I know with children is resting easy right now. It’s heartbreaking.
On a day like today, lighting a candle and singing Christmas carols with children leading the way feels like exactly the right thing. They sang with innocence and enthusiasm and joy and just the right amount of mischief.
They did a beautiful thing, singing like angels while dropping stray bits of halo from the choir loft. I’m going to keep that image foremost in my mind this Christmas, all the while wishing for peace on earth.