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Tis the Season

Lori Haynes Niles

TELLING THE CHRISTMAS STORY

Here's a traditional sequence for telling the Christmas story, with suggested caroling breaks. Use this sequence (or develop your own) for the "Shadow Montage" or the "Screen Shots" program.

Opening: "Go Tell It on the Mountain"

Scene 1: Mary and the Angel; Luke 1:26-38

Scene 2: Joseph and the Angel; Matthew 1:18-24

Narrator: Luke 2:1-7

Children sing "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

Scene 3: Shepherds, sheep, and one angel; Luke 2:8-12

Children sing "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks."

Scene 4: Shepherds and many angels; Luke 2:13-14

Children sing "Angels We Have Heard on High."

Scene 5: Shepherds and sheep; Luke 2:15-16

Children sing "O Come, All Ye Faithful."

Scene 6: Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, animals, and a manger with baby Jesus; Luke 2:16-20

Children sing "Silent Night! Holy Night!" or "Away in a Manger."

CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

Enlist the help of church members to share their stories of Christmas in this low-prep intergenerational program for any size church.

About six weeks before your scheduled program, ask older church members to tell you about Christmas memories that are important to them. This can be especially effective if you have adults who grew up in other parts of the world. As you hear the stories they'll share, determine questions the children might ask to assist with the flow of conversation. Some natural questions might include "Where did you grow up? What did you do on Christmas Eve? What was your favorite Christmas song to sing?"

With each story, link it with an appropriate carol. For example, if one adult recalls how her family observed one hour of silence between dinner and bedtime each Christmas Eve, use "Silent Night! Holy Night!" with that story. Practice all the carols a few times with the kids, and tell them which person will share the story before each carol. Assign questions to specific children for each story.

You might also want to enlist the kids' help in making scenery such as a roaring fire in the fireplace and cozy living room furniture. Set up the scenery to reflect a comfortable space with a rocking chair for the adult near center stage and enough places for the kids to sit on the floor. Arrange the children around the rocking chair so they're attending more to the storyteller than to the audience.

You may wish to assign stage movements for each scene, perhaps having one child come to sit on a storyteller's lap or having the kids who are going to ask the predetermined questions stand and walk to the person. To help children maintain their stage presence, you may also have them hold quiet toys, as though each one is holding a Christmas present. If you typically use microphones in your worship area, it's best to use a boom and to have someone move the microphone to the people who are speaking.

At the end of each story and as the next storyteller approaches, have the children sing the associated carol. You may wish to have the congregation join in, or you may prefer to have the children perform the music themselves. Because they're seated, it's perfectly all right for them to have song sheets or projected lyrics.
Close the Christmas program by having the whole congregation stand and sing "Joy to the World!" together. Or consider closing with a variation of the Iraqi tradition of passing the "touch of peace." Have your children each go out to the congregation and touch one person. Each of these people touches one other person until everyone has felt the touch of this holiday blessing.

CHRISTMAS SCREEN SHOTS

This high-tech idea requires a lot of work to set up, but it offers a virtually stress-free program day.

Instead of having the kids perform actions on the day of the program, create a slide or Microsoft PowerPoint presentation of the scenes of the Christmas story. It seems to work well to enact a different scene each week for the six weeks preceding your program (or even earlier). Plan to shoot a whole roll of film, and let different groups of children don the costumes to enact each scene.

If you'd like to involve even the youngest children, take pictures of the babies in your nursery and show them while the kids sing "Angels We Have Heard on High."

You can get really creative with photo editing software such as Microsoft Picture It! 2001 or Adobe PhotoDeluxe Home Edition to dress them as little angels. Or simply put a pair of wings and a halo on each cooperative baby as you take the pictures.
During the program, have the kids sing as the show plays behind them, but be sure to show it to them first to avoid a lot of turned heads.

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