In December 1999, as in other Decembers, the tranquility of the Advent season was put on hold by the Herdmans. To the first-time viewers of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” it would almost seem sacrilegious to allow a cast of children and adults to take the dramatization of the beautiful Christmas story to such an earthy level
In December 1999, as in other Decembers, the tranquility of the Advent season was put on hold by the Herdmans. To the first-time viewers of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” it would almost seem sacrilegious to allow a cast of children and adults to take the dramatization of the beautiful Christmas story to such an earthy level. Yet, the truth of the matter is “not everyone grasps the power of the birth of the Holy Child upon their first exposure to the biblical accounts of the wondrous event.”
In 1990, I became aware of the significance of the “message of the angels,” as it was revealed to one young fellow, through the reading of the familiar account as recorded in the book of Luke.
That year, like many previous years, my class chose “The Charlie Brown Christmas” as the dramatic presentation to present to an all-school audience for a Christmas assembly. Twenty-five fifth-grade students elected to memorize the lines, create the staging and props, in order to recreate the Christmas classic as Charles Shultz had drawn and penned it originally.
As you well know, not all of the cast of characters in that comic strip play possess a complete understanding of the beautiful scenario of the birth of the “Christ Child.” After an exhausting process of play tryouts, all of the main characters, with the exception of Linus, had been chosen. Among the group of aspiring actors and actresses who wished to portray Charlie Brown’s little buddy were a number of boys and girls who had not made a successful run at being chosen for the other cast members. In this group of thespians was the class terror, “Chuck.” Now, Chuck was a classic “Herdman.” He was a rough-and-tumble young fellow who did not hesitate to go his own way, make his own rules and demand his own way with most of the activities that involved interaction with other children. Teachers often were the object of his wrath, if he didn’t find the classroom rules to his own liking.
The lines to be used in the tryouts were the classic conversation between Charlie Brown and Linus. Charlie observes the dialogue of the other cast members in choosing a Christmas tree for their play. “Let’s get a nice shiny aluminum tree. Yeah, maybe even painted pink.”
In disgust, he finally says,” Doesn’t anyone know the true meaning of Christmas?” Linus then takes a bible and reads the biblical account from the book of Luke, chapter two.
After each of the students wishing to become Linus in our play had read aloud from the prepared script, we would choose by a class vote who did the best job of dramatizing the part from the script. Before we took the vote, Chuck raised his hand and asked if he might read the part again. There was much giggling and many expressions of surprise that Chuck would really want to try out for the part so much that he would really ask for a second chance. So, in order not to have a full-scale temper outburst, I said “Why certainly Chuck, we would love to have you read those lines again.”
Chuck replies, “Hey, ya’ got a real Bible?”
I took the Gideon Bible from the top of my desk and handed it to him. Tenderly, he opened it up to Luke, chapter two. Then, in an almost angelic voice, he said, “Could you turn out the lights please?”
When the lights were turned off, he proceeded to recite the beautiful story verbatim. “In those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed...”
When he had finished his recitation through verse 20, he gently closed the Bible and turned to the student that had been chosen to play Charlie Brown, and said, “That, my friend, is what Christmas is all about.”
There was total silence in that classroom - the kind of silence you might feel after a beautiful performance of “O Holy Night” or “Panis Angelicus” of “The Hallelujah Chorus.”
The most unlikely (or so it seemed) of the students in my class had indeed taught us again what Christmas is all about. We were now ready to take the vote to choose Linus. With a chorus of enthusiastic voices that still ring in my ears, the class chanted “Chuck, Chuck, Chuck.”
On the evening of the performance, (my principal asked the class if they would like to present the play to the school community, rather than only the students) the gymnasium was filled to standing room only. Students, teachers, parents, grandparents and other school patrons were there. The cast provided a most memorable presentation.
When it came to Linus’ recitation of The Christmas Story from the Bible, it was very obvious that the student’s choice of Chuck was a perfect one. The people in attendance were awestruck with his beautiful recitation, for the only role they knew him in was as the school terror.
In the days to follow until Christmas break, Chuck was the center of attention. Wherever he was found - on the playground, in the hall, in his classroom - Chuck was a totally different young fellow. His fellow students loved him! I received a simple, but very beautiful, Christmas card from Chuck’s mom and dad, thanking me for allowing Chuck to be in the class play. “We didn’t know he could be so kind and gentle.” Their words spoke volumes to me.
Isn’t it tragic how easy it can me to overlook “The Herdmans” among us, even at Christmas time?