Christmas Pageants 2020: Recorded, Zoomed, Live Outside

How can we share the incredible story of the Incarnation through mediums that will engage our community in meaningful ways of retelling the narrative while maintaining appropriate physical distance?

The Annual Christmas Pageant: Can’t we just skip it this year?

Yes. You absolutely can! Seven months into the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic, ministry leaders are exhausted. So are many of our parishioners. If a pageant will not contribute to the formation, joy, and health of your community this season – consider this your permission to take a year off or do an Epiphany Pageant instead!

Three Reasons to Facilitate a Pageant in 2020

  1. The Story Matters – The story of Jesus’ birth, life, and death is central to our Christian faith. Christmas pageants provide a community one way of retelling, appreciating, and deeply engaging the mystery of the Incarnation – God becoming human and dwelling among us.
  2. Drama is Formation – In Christmas Pageants: The Joy of Children Immersed in Scripture, Gretchen Wolff Pritchard writes, “The most vivid and lasting educational experiences a child can have are those involving drama. Nothing else provides such a total immersion in the subject, such a meeting on its own terms.” The Christmas pageant invites participants into an immersive experience of this Biblical story.
  3. Community, Familiarity, & Joy – Christmas pageants offer a faith community the opportunity to celebrate the joy of Jesus’s birth together. Young people get to lead this celebration in meaningful ways and receive positive feedback from their community. As a very difficult year comes to a close, perhaps a Christmas pageant could provide your congregation with a familiar sense of joy and celebration.

The Recorded Pageant

This year you might consider pre-recording a Christmas pageant. This can be done by giving different households individual scenes to record and editing them together or by gathering your actors all together and recording the pageant through Zoom. The pageant could be shared during worship, on your website, on social media, and/or through YouTube Premieres.

If you are considering recording with Zoom, check out these wonderful tips from Miranda Hassett in her recent article Zoom Drama Tips: Using Technology for Biblical Storytelling.

Do Not Be Afraid: A Virtual Christmas Pageant from Illustrated Ministry
According to the website, “Centered on the narratives surrounding Jesus’ birth from the gospels of Matthew and Luke, this is like your traditional Christmas pageant but designed to be an expandable, shrinkable, pre-recordable, Zoom-able, intergenerational pageant that can be adapted to your setting, no matter what is happening in the world.” Illustrated Ministry provides a how-to guide, a pageant planning guide, an original script, illustrated Zoom backgrounds, and more. You can grab a sample here.

Script for Pre-Recorded Christmas Pageant
This script was created by Sarah Bentley Allred for her congregations pre-recorded pageant in 2020. It is already broken into seven scenes. Each scene can be preformed by 1-3 actors, with plenty of room for additional cast members. The script uses mostly direct words of scripture. There is a suggested hymn between each scene which provides an additional opportunity for members of the congregation to share their gifts. Sarah plans to have different households record the seven scenes and six hymns.

Live on Zoom

Four Readings, Four Hymns
In On-the-Spot Christmas Pageant, Sharon Ely Pearson offers a basic no-prep pageant outline that includes four readings from the Gospel of Luke interspersed with four Christmas carols. A simple live Zoom pageant might consist of four narrators reading from scripture and musicians leading the congregation in the refrains of four familiar carols (safely from separate locations). Narrators could be costumed or not. For a visual, members of the congregation of different ages could be asked to illustrate the four sections of scripture ahead of time to be shown during the readings.

  • Reading: Luke 2:1-4
  • Carol: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
  • Reading: Luke 2:5-7
  • Carol: “Silent Night”
  • Reading: Luke 2:8-14
  • Carol: “Go, Tell It On the Mountain”
  • Reading: Luke 2:15-20
  • Carol: “O Come, All Ye Faithful”

Crib Service on Zoom with PowerPoints
This service is designed to last about half an hour. There is an opening section with a brief prayer, and some text from John 1, followed by the Christmas story in three parts (Annunciation, Nativity, Shepherds), and then closing prayers which everyone participates in. This would also work well as a late-Advent special event for young children and their grownups, to help them hear the Christmas story before the Christmas season.

An Outdoor Nativity

With a little creativity and the right weather, congregations could offer an outdoor version of the traditional Christmas pageant.

A Walk/Drive Through Pageant
Actors could be arranged at a number of stations, for example The Annunciation, The Journey to Bethlehem, The Angels and Shepherds, and The Adoration of the Magi. Each station could be one household group or spaced out significantly. Stations could be static tableaus with a sign or a brief retelling of the story with a narrator. Folks could drive by and roll down their windows or park and walk the stations (masked and staying 6 feet from actors). In the FORMA Facebook Group, Lindsay Gottwald noted that her congregation is hoping to hand out hot chocolate during such an event.

Live Nativity Scene
Many congregations organize live Nativity scenes yearly. They are a great outreach event and some draw a big crowd – especially when there are live animals! Here’s some guidance on holding such an event. During this pandemic, special attention would need to be given to having actors and onlookers wear masks and space out at least 6 feet from each other.

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