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How To Screw Up Your Kids For Life At Christmas

Updated: Mar 12, 2023

If Jesus or Santa are too lenient, you can still punish the year’s sins with stupid costumes and a big-ass church Christmas pageant

Extremely crowded church Christmas pageant with a lot of kids with stars on sticks
Every kid in church playing every star in the Milky Way. Photo by Ralph on Flickr

Christmas is fraught with peril when you’re a Christian kid. If you’re not in one of those Santa-averse denominations you’ve got a lot to preoccupy you this time of year. Like how you’re going to be good for a whole damn month when you’ve had zero practice for the previous eleven.

(Let’s just hope Santa missed last summer's allegations re the infamous Poconos Swimming Pool Incident.)

Fortunately, Santa has beaucoup kids to keep track of and no sophisticated system to deal with it, like some super-network of clustered servers with AI-driven bleeding-edge advanced analytics fueled by an Apache Hadoop behavioral data-crunching ecosystem to extract who really is naughty and nice. If he did, he could save money only giving killer gifts to the exceptionally nice kids instead of all the ones who were ‘good enough’, as far as he knows, because he lacked the proper evidence to pin several suspicious incidents on them.

Then again, maybe the robots really *are* coming for everyone’s jobs. The Hudson’s Bay Centre window on Bay Street in Toronto a few years ago.

More than anything else, the most perilous peril you must survive to see how good you really are — the journey that truly tests your mettle as a kid deserving of the Toy Du Saison this year — is the dreaded Church Christmas Pageant.

One of my starkest Christmas memories was being dolled up, my hair combed to perfection, and getting schlepped to church by my parents for that most holy rite all Christian children are required to endure: Saccharine-sweet parent-sanctioned-and-approved Christmas pageant performance humiliation.

It was kind of a requirement at our Orlando church, I guess, to be part of the Christmas Pageant. I don’t know why, maybe to impress upon our young impressionable minds a lesson of the similar trials and tribulations Christian kids have been forced to endure through the centuries before we became holy crusaders, sadistic inquisitors and imperialist oppressors. You were doomed to this fate because parents love any opportunity to watch their hapless, helpless offspring dress up in silly pseudo-adult costumes and look ridiculous the way our parents were forced to do when they were kids. Probably in damp, chilly Roman catacombs.

Today, with video recorders and this thing called The Internet, the Angel Gabriel with swords sticking out of his shoulders and the Virgin Mary in shorts ensure that Christmas pageant kids will live forever in infamy, globally.

When I was one of the ‘little kids’, under ten or so, we got the same damn stupid thing to do every year: We’d be forced, under penalty of eternal damnation, to put on these dorky-looking white Puritan collars manufactured by sadistic church ladies, and even dorkier-looking large red ribbons which made everyone look like toddlers.

Naturally, everyone thought we were hopelessly adorable which meant we’d probably be forced to wear them someday when we joined the senior choir.

After forcing us to put on this outlandish gear, we stood in a row in front of the church, each of us holding a large construction-paper letter, so that we spelled out “Merry Christmas,” and then held up our letter in turn, the big dorky-looking collars and ribbons half-obscuring our cherubic little red faces, as we recited a line we’d been required to memorize. My mother took this solemn obligation so seriously — I was one of the ‘R’s — which was, “R is for Ringing of bells loud and clear!” that for three weeks beforehand she asked me to repeat it on an average of, oh, about every 10.2 nanoseconds, to the point where I could never forget this @#$% line even if I tried, and I still wake up in the middle of the night screaming, “R is for Ringing of bells loud and clear!”

The author at age five or six holding up one of the R's in Christmas and looking like an idiot
That’s (the future) Mary, Mother of Jesus standing next to me. The kid with the S was the minister’s son, who I guess used his influence to get out of wearing the goofy white collar, at least.

That year my brother joined us at the tender age of two and a half as we were short one kid to hold the final ‘S’. Except he was too young to memorize the process of how to use the toilet, much less anything as complicated as an actual line of dialogue. Another kid said his line, but I liked to tease Brett years later that they wouldn’t let him say it because he had the intelligence of a tree frog. My mother told me to stop teasing my brother, that it wasn’t very Christian and that I lacked Christmas spirit.

Like I cared. I was one of those older sisters who believed I’d been granted the privilege, nay, the God-given divine right, to pick on, abuse, and otherwise torture my younger sibling. Undoubtedly he will break down in front of a grand jury one day, confess to a five-state killing spree, and scream from the primeval depths of his baby-brother soul, “I couldn’t help it, she was always PICKING on me, she told about how we used to play Barbie dolls and dress up in Mom’s clothing before I could even talk, in front of all of my high school friends!”

Finally I got promoted from the dreaded Big Bow Brigade to Chief Narrator for this Southern-town yuletide extravaganza, but it still irked the heck out of me because by this time, budding thespian that I was, I longed for the starring role, Mary, Mother of Jesus. But that part always went to my lucky friend Tina, which I always thought was because her adorable, angelic, blue-eyed Germanic face lent itself perfectly to the part of the Virgin Mother.

Every year she brought all her Teutonic glory to the Eastern Mary’s part. She ALWAYS got to kneel in front of the church with that really cute boy I liked, What’s-His-Name, and stare down beatifically at the infant Jesus, played with much dramatic impact by a naked plastic Di-Dee doll wrapped in a spit-up stained baby blanket.

My mother explained that my part was much better, because although Tina was a very nice little girl, she had all the reading skills of a weiner schnitzel, which is why all she could handle was to look beatific while I got a speaking role. But she still got to wear the Mary costume and sit in the spotlight with a cute guy who hated being Joseph because it looked like he was married to a GIRL, and the guys might think he LIKED Tina, who had GIRL COOTIES and would probably poison our budding little misogynist for life and tar him forever as Unclean. Meanwhile, I sat behind the podium with two other narrators waiting to read Luke 2:8–14, six lousy Bible verses to showcase the sum total of my aspiring acting talents, and there were never any scouts from Hollywood in the pews looking for the next Jody Foster Child Star of the 1970s. On the other hand, at least I didn’t have to wear that atrocious collar-and-bow monstrosity anymore!

It’s no wonder, years later, I became a Pagan. Mom’s lucky I didn’t become a Satanist.

We grew up. Tina eventually learned to read, then got married which ruined her for any future Mother of Jesus roles, and I graduated from my career as a narrator to a much less Christian incarnation as a Pagan belly dancer and computer sales dork. My baby brother, though, surpassed us all by learning how to speak coherent sentences. And how to use the potty.

My baby brother, with Brylcreemed hair, holding up the final S
Used with permission by my brother. Brylcreemed hair courtesy of my mother, without permission, who made him sit still for it.

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