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Abby McDermott (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Abby McDermott (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

This annual Christmas pageant is still going strong, 75 years later Add to ...

Forty-five minutes before showtime, the basement of Kingsway-Lambton United Church is abuzz with pint-sized angels, kings and other biblical figures.

Bethlehem girls are having their cheeks reddened with stage makeup. Wise men are donning their mustaches and beards. And angels are adjusting their halos. All are getting ready for their roles in A Child Is Born, an annual Christmas pageant that has been performed in this Etobicoke, Ont., church for 75 years, just one of the many pageants and concerts happening across the country. Many of the young stars have participated in the pageant for years, and many are the children, and even grandchildren, of those who once filled these same roles.

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Carly Turner, 14, is one of the third-generation performers. Her brothers, her mother and grandmother have all been in it. She made her own theatrical debut as the pageant’s baby Jesus when she was merely weeks old (it’s a brief, non-speaking role, of course) and she’s played numerous other parts since. On this evening, she plays the pivotal role of Mary.

Those who participate in the pageant year after year say they do it to keep tradition and to share in a sense of community. Dozens of volunteers and around 120 children are involved in the four evenings of the production, and not all are church members. Only an estimated 40 per cent of the cast, most of whom range in age from around 4 to 14, are members of the church. The rest are children from the community.

“It’s a great kind of community spot,” says Alison Thompson, mother of two-month-old James, who is playing baby Jesus this evening. Amid the chaos, James seems the most relaxed. He remains sound asleep in his car seat as his mother brings him in through the church side entrance.

Ms. Thompson grew up in the neighbourhood and performed in the pageant herself. During James’s recent baptism, she was asked by the minister to have him play Jesus in the performance. “I was thrilled,” she says. “It makes me so proud.”

The rest of the cast has been rehearsing, almost since James was born. Auditions were held in mid-October,but a role is found for everyone, and the cast and crew have been practising for six weeks.

Kieran Stoyka Kay, 11, who plays a palace guard, figures he now has his lines down pat. “It’s too bad we don’t get to see it,” he says, “but it’s fun being in it.”

By 7:30 p.m., the audience has gathered and Reverend Dr. David Winsor gives his introductory remarks. The collection plates are passed. Then, the lights dim.

It’s showtime.

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