An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Sunday, George and I attended morning service at First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake. I nearly ran back to the parking lot when I read the program.  The children of the congregation would be performing a Christmas Pageant!

I’ve endured far too many Primary programs throughout my lifelong membership in the Mormon fold. Even when it’s no longer my own children picking their noses or punching friends on the stand, I find these programs painful. I feel for teachers trying to keep children who are naturally as active as fruit flies in mating season quiet through 20 minutes of opening exercises and the sacrament service preceding the Primary part of the program.

The children labor through hymns and Primary songs they’ve rehearsed for months—and are heartily sick of. Those with speaking parts take turns at the microphone to recite or read a formulaic talk written by a parent. Shy kids cry or freeze into mortifying silence. Little hams hog the spotlight—grasping the microphone like budding rock stars. I voice a hearty “Amen!” as the closing prayer signifies the torture is over for another year.”

I’m sure there are wards where Primary programs with perfectly disciplined children come off without a hitch, but I haven’t lived in any of those.

Last Sunday was cold and snowy, so George and I decided to endure the children’s pageant rather than trudge back out into the weather. This pageant was unusually inclusive. The miraculous births of Buddha and Confucius were dramatized as well as the more familiar nativity. Little elephants, unicorns, and dragons as well as the more customary shepherds and angels performed. Maybe performance was the key to this child-centered program—kids acting rather than sitting with folded arms waiting for a turn to sing or deliver a talk.

A beautiful four-month-old baby played Baby Jesus. Fortunately, real babies were not used to depict the other infants. The mothers of Buddha and Confucius snatched their miraculously-delivered doll babies as roughly as Imogene Herdman in Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

Having Jesus share the stage with two other religious founders might be inappropriate for traditional Christians, but I found it spiritual. The adult narrator closed with the message that the purpose of these stories is to share ancient wisdom—to deepen our understanding of and compassion for others. A great message for Christmas or any other day.

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