At some churches, Nativity Pageants bring out the worst in Christians.
As Slate tells it, these pageants are sometimes about anything but the Christmas spirit.
Often, one of the biggest struggles of the pageant season is fierce, parent-driven competition over parts. It doesn't help when roles like the Virgin Mary and the angel Gabriel are thought to be valuable padding for a college résumé—a great part demonstrates an interest in the theater and church!—making for a tense atmosphere at auditions if unchecked by ministers and pageant leaders.
While we don't know what colleges are looking for nowadays, it seems like the transcript benefits would be small potatoes compared to the glory of playing the mother of God. Either way, it's a Big Deal. One minister describes the classic casting-call strategy of showing up dressed for the part you want - a practice that led to 16 hopeful Virgins one year. Even more shocking to those of us who envision a peaceful ritual of gilt stars, baby dolls and Book of Luke, is the flat-out, almost Medieval mercantilism.
A minister who oversees the annual pageant at a large church on the Upper East Side of Manhattan told me that her church used to give the role of Virgin Mary to the daughter of that year's highest donor. But, she hastened to add, they stopped doing that when competition among the parents started to sour the mood.
The author also describes donations of high-end fabrics for costumes and the occasional designer-clad Wise Man.
All of this sounds like a bad TV Christmas special, but it's interesting to see this come right now, when we're hearing so much about budget Christmases and churches are hurting from charity cutbacks. Will the donations and the cloth of gold dry up? Will everyone learn the true spirit of Christmas? Or, like the pageants themselves, is the lure of the ultimate leading lady too strong a tradition to overthrow?
Bethlehem Does Broadway [Slate]