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JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: Remember your school pageant of long ago?

Christmas vacation was kicked off, you might say, by the annual school Christmas pageant.

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Christmas vacation for most Minnesota youth was like being able to eat three 5-cent lime popsicles—my favorite.

It was like drinking two bottles of 6-ounce Orange Crush soda in the brown, ribbed bottles. It was like buying a 10-cent Nut Goodie candy bar and eating the whole thing. Christmas vacation was a two-week escape from having to sit quietly at your desk and do math problems in your Big Chief tablet.

So many big events were packed into two weeks that every day was special. You could build snow forts, go sliding, have toboggan parties, endless snowball fights and go to the free Saturday matinee movie at the beautiful Gem Theatre.

Christmas vacation was kicked off, you might say, by the annual school Christmas pageant. Gnomes don’t usually get too much respect unless they are featured in a school Christmas pageant. I was one but to this day I’m not exactly sure what a gnome is.

Rural Minnesota towns in the 50s didn’t have too much going for them in terms of having many community-wide entertainment events. The annual school Christmas pageants made up for them. For most small Minnesota towns the pageant was better than seeing a Broadway play—for one reason—their child or grandchild would have a part in the pageant.

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Every year it was customary in the elementary school to have a production with a Christmas flavor. It was the biggest event in the elementary school, similar to homecoming in high school. Teachers worked hard to put this on and the kids spent countless hours sitting on the gym floor waiting for their turn to practice their part.

Instructions were sent home to moms on how to make the costumes. To make a costume for a Christmas pageant was not asking too much. Mothers expected to be asked.

Every home had a sewing machine and every mom knew how to sew. It was like a man to be able to change a tire or fix a leaky faucet. Girls sewed in their high school home-economics class. Boys made step stools in woodworking class. That’s just the way it was and no one thought differently. I guess it was just common knowledge that boys couldn’t learn how to thread a needle and girls couldn’t hammer a nail.

The one performance pageant was always held on the Friday night before the start of Christmas vacation. The custodians worked hard to place the heavy wood folding chairs on our gym floor. Behind the folding chairs were the bleachers and above the bleachers was the balcony. Every chair, every bleacher seat and every space on the balcony would be filled. When seats ran out, parents stood in the entryway and along the walls.

Kids packed the stage or sat on the floor between the chairs and the stage waiting for their turn. We either sang a song, said a line or two, or just walked on stage and did some action. I can’t recall any lines I ever said or even the theme of the pageant. It didn’t matter.

Without a microphone and due to the commotion of the audience and shushing children to be quiet, few people heard anyway except a teacher saying, “Now you kids settle down and be quiet.” For the community, it served to bring in the Christmas spirit and everyone recalled their own childhood days of waiting for Santa Claus or when they, too, had a part in the Christmas pageant.

I was a gnome one year and my mother had to make a brown hooded costume. I may have said a line or two along with the other gnomes. Our teacher told us that a gnome is a small person who lives underground, probably in a cave. Maybe because I was a gnome in fourth grade, I am kind of claustrophobic today.

The pageant brought excitement for kids for a couple of reasons. After the pageant, we went to our classrooms and this is where we gave our teacher her (it was always a “her”) Christmas gift. We made sure our desks were tidy, said goodbye to our teacher, and thus began our Christmas vacation.

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Our parents waited for us in the hallway outside the classroom. They told us how well we did and how much they enjoyed the pageant. If our teacher was close by, they thanked her for the work she did and wished her a Merry Christmas.

We climbed in the car on what was always a cold, star-filled night to go home. We drove through the streets of my hometown, commented on the lack of cars on the streets, and looked to see if anyone was in the cafes as we drove by. The town was quiet. Tomorrow people would talk about the pageant and talk about how wonderful it was and how cute the kids looked.

Already we were thinking about what we would do over Christmas vacation. I have always maintained that everyone needs something to look forward to and there was hardly anything that could top Christmas vacation—no, not even, the school pageant.

Riddle: What's a ghost's favorite holiday song? (Answer: I'm dreaming of a fright Christmas.) To this day I still dream about those Christmas pageants of long ago and they were anything but frightful.

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Thanks to Northwoods Lumber and Randy's Repair of Blackduck for supporting our 100% graduation initiative.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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