It's the imperfections that make these celebrations so endearing.
christmas nataivity
It's the imperfections that make these celebrations so endearing.
| Credit: Bethany Clarke/Getty Images

If you grew up in a small Southern town, you know how much excitement builds around the church Christmas program. (Sometimes the Baptists and Methodists even get a little competitive with each other. The Presbyterians and Episcopalians generally remain neutral.)

By November, the church hostess committee, building committee, costume committee, and youth minister will be feverishly meeting to iron out every last detail of the local Christmas program. The choir director will have demanded additional rehearsals until everybody masters that SATB choral arrangement of "Angels, We Have Heard On High." This will spark consternation among the sopranos and altos, who already have their hands full, cooking and shopping for the holidays. They know good and well that the basses and tenors are the problem. (Those men have their minds on kickoffs, not downbeats.)

The smallest congregations try hard to manage expectations: "Now y'all know we can't have a choir and a big crowd at the same time."

The bigger ones push the envelope, with a live Nativity on Saturday, preceding The Program on Sunday. They might even use some of the music fund to rent a camel.

While small town Christmas celebrations vary from church to church, our Facebook Brain Trust reminded us that there are a few constants we can count on:

  1. Angels with crooked halos and wobbly wings (made from wire wrapped with tinsel garland)
  2. A little shepherd dressed in his dad's bathrobe, with an elastic headband holding Mama's towel on his head
  3. An elderly church lady who "whispers" (LOUDLY!) to her pew neighbor, "WHAT'S JERRY'S BOY DOING UP THERE IN THAT BATH ROBE?"
  4. Cranky young angels and shepherds shoving each other because they're tired of standing OR . . .
  5. A love-struck little angel kissing her shepherd crush on the cheek while Mama turns beet red in her pew
  6. Hair bows so big they block the children standing behind them
  7. Cattle (are those Holsteins?) that really are lowing in the live Nativity—speaking of which . . .
  8. A panicked youth minister running down the highway, trying to catch the live sheep, goats, donkeys, and cows that just escaped from the outdoor Nativity
  9. A doll in a homemade manger . . . unless one of the ladies of the church has given birth in the past six months
  10. Baby Jesus—represented by a doll or a congregant's infant—wearing monogrammed swaddling clothes
  11. Shepherds portrayed by girls because all the boys were needed for Joseph and the wise men
  12. A teenager assigned to "stage lighting," which means he's responsible for standing by the panel of light switches next to the organ and turning the pulpit spots off and on
  13. Wise men with Southern accents, trying their best to sound Biblical when they say their lines
  14. A fellowship following the program
  15. Genuine community and an overflow of Christmas spirit

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