I opened my mouth - and completely froze. The other angel, undaunted, delivered the line beautifully while I stood there in complete silence, a heavenly Teller to her Penn.
Later while relinquishing my wings, I agonized over my less than celestial debut. The Sunday school president smiled and said in a matter-of-fact tone, "Don't worry. You just had a mental block. All actors get them once in a while." I look back on the pageant with fondness, on that church community with warmth, and on that good woman with particular affection.
During my college years in Boston I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a group that has never developed Christmas worship traditions. Would I learn any new Christmas rituals? Would there be any substitute charm in this new environment? I loved my Protestant Christmas seasons. What would I have to give up?
As it turned out, not much.
During many years in Boston, I saw Christmas pageants in Mormon wards where children forgot lines, waved to their mommies and upstaged baby Jesus. I miss an institutionalized Christmas Eve program with little candles with drip shields, choir robes and processionals down a central aisle, but I have discovered there is lots of leeway for local initiative. Mormons in the Boston area do a bang-up job for the Christmas season.
For years, singers in the ward bundled up to carol in Louisburg Square on Beacon Hill. Carolers from many Christian traditions strolled in little clusters making this look like the quintessential Victorian greeting card - wonderful music backlit by the glow of wrought iron gas lamps, a tickling snowfall, appreciative Brahmin faces smiling in the steamy windows of their red brick town homes. One year, so I hear, a TV newscast looking for local color homed in on the Mormon group singing "Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains," our unique and lovely contribution to Christmas hymnody.
Another Christmas tradition that persists in one suburban Boston-area ward begins as early as New England's apple crop. The young men and women of the ward take orders from members for apple pies. On one long, fragrant, gooey night the teenagers make and deliver the pies. The proceeds help buy toys the needy children of the inner city ward.
Historically what happens in most LDS wards depends on a variety of factors - how invested the bishop is in music, who is activities chair, who likes kids included in parties, who prefers gala adults-only events, who is willing to tweak instruction and sneak in brass instruments, among others.
This year, our family will go to the Program of Lessons and Carols at Northwestern University. My seminary class will carol in my neighborhood. (Louisburg Square it's not, but it will do.) As a family we always celebrate Advent each of the four Sundays before Christmas - a tradition from my Protestant heritage. We read scripture, sing hymns and light candles sequentially in a wreath. On Christmas Day we may visit another church or just celebrate with family.
The lack of consistent church-wide programs is fine with me. I celebrate with my community both in their sanctuaries and in our chapels. I maintain traditions from my heritage that link me to my non-Mormon family in precious ways. I am connected to the whole Christian community.
And now that I'm an adult, I'm prepared to celebrate the angel's good news: "I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people...."