Richmond's Nativity Pageant, one of the city's oldest continuing holiday traditions, seeks to get back on the burro this year after a rare, ice-storm-induced cancellation last Christmas Eve.
Weather permitting, this Dec. 24 will herald the 67th performance of the pageant in its approximately 75-year history. It began at Capitol Square under the direction of the city's tireless activities director, Rose Banks, and a committee representative of some of the city's most elite families, descendants of whom, three and four generations later, continue to participate, Christian and Jewish alike.
For most of its history the pageant has been held at the Carillon, the World War I memorial in Byrd Park. Gone are the livestock that lent an authentic, if rather too-authentic air to the production; dolls replace living babies Jesus now, as well; but otherwise the pageant is much the same: Between 200 and 300 costumed characters moving silently and devoutly through the story's seven stages, from Mary's awareness of the conception to her confinement. The story is invariably narrated by a member of the Freeman family and enlivened by a choir.
Mary Boelt of Richmond's parks, recreation and community facilities department says the half-hour pageant was taken over by a citizens' committee in the late '80s after complaints about the church-state connection. But it survived the transition and remains "totally Scriptural," she says.
Jeanie Edwards, who has directed the pageant most of the last two decades, agrees. "It does make you stop and think what Christmas is all about," she says. "At 6 o'clock on the 24th I remember why I do this."
And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. Luke