Throughout my Elementary School years we would perform a Christmas Pageant for our families and the community of Taos. Everyone who came had to sit in the old Enos Garcia Gymnasium on those old hard creaking bleachers. Mrs. Murphy, our music teacher, would have her students sit by grade level. Her piano sat in the edge of the sidelines. The children nervous and fidgety as everyone settles down and gets ready to hear the wonderment of their children perform the classic Christmas Carols. As soon as Mrs. Murphy stood up and began to talk in the microphone, we all knew to shut up and do as we practiced. I might add that we may have practiced more on sitting and standing in unison then singing… am I right?
It took weeks of practice to get the performance just right. Mrs. Murphy would spend time teaching 5-11 year olds all the Christmas Carols, God bless her soul! She would play the piano and we would do our best to harmonize and memorize the songs the best we could, because who knows what Hark the Harold Angels Sing means when your 7 years old?
My most vivid memory is walking to her music class and she would sit us all in a circle on the floor. She would play the songs for us that we were going to learn, and then assign some students to play instruments. I was so happy when I was selected to play the triangle. I had one little part… the one time I had to hit this triangle at the most opportune time of the song. It was a big deal. A huge responsibility! I think this is the first time I actually understood stage freight and excessive sweating in areas I shouldn’t have until puberty. You see, if I messed up the timing, the song would be ruined. It was for the song The 12 days of Christmas. So there were 12 of us who were the selected few- the elite- to make this song come alive! I did not want to give up my spot, so I played that triangle like nobody else before me. “DINGGGGG!” It was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard! I should have been a professional triangle musician. Maybe I could have been part of big productions like Titanic or Star Wars– you never know.
Then Mrs. Murphy was having solo try outs. Not for instruments, mind you. Singing try outs. This was the mother of all tryouts- the American Idol before American Idol. Except Mrs. Murphy had the vote, not the audience. Try outs would be during recess. You know it was serious business if you had to give up your recess for anything, unless of course you got in trouble and had to stay in for “recess detention.” Which I know nothing about, by the way. Ahem. I love singing! I won’t do it in public, and I think it’s because my heart was broken that day when I did not make the cut on Mrs. Murphy’s American Idol. I may have cried a little in the girl’s bathroom, but at least I had the triangle.
My mom would dress me up super fancy for these pageants. There was this one dress that I still remember. In some ways, it made me feel like an angel. It was so exciting! Every boy and girl dressed up, hair combed, face washed and hands clean. Again, if you had to wash your face and hands for anything, that meant it was a big deal.
One year it snowed. Which wasn’t unusual in Taos during that time. This snow storm, however, dumped quite a bit of snow. I sat on the hard floor of that gymnasium and sang those Christmas Carols with all my heart, I wanted Mrs. Murphy to regret not picking me for a solo. We sang about Silent Nights, Jingle Bells, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer (with the funny little echoes to match), Santa Claus is Coming to TAOS (not town) Away in a Manger (what was a manger anyway), Deck the Halls (what in the world does that even mean), Frosty the Snowman, Joy to the World, Little Town of Bethlehem and every one’s favorite Feliz Navidad, who didn’t love shaking the maracas! Of course there are some of those songs you are not allowed to sing at a Public School, heck we can’t even say the word Christmas in some instances, but during that time, it was that pageant that gave the Christmas Spirit its joy and peace. It was a time for families to grin and come together and enjoy a little Christmas Cheer– To put away all the problems and disagreements and just enjoy a production that came from the heart of a teacher and the children.
At the conclusion of the pageant it was custom to pose and take pictures with our friends to record the moment. As we stepped outside this particular pageant, we entered a true Winter Wonderland! The snow on the ground went up past my ankles. As the snowflakes fell , the sky glowed orange. Each snowflake slowly floating down gave the whole town a peaceful aurora. The trees and mountains never looked more beautiful! I had to ride in my Pita’s and Grandma’s big truck that day. I sat on my grandma’s lap as Pita navigated the wet and slippery roads. Seatbelts were not necessarily a law that was enforced back then. Wow, I’m old! Apparently the new law took away my rights so in protest I sat on my grandma’s lap– kidding- had to throw that little political gem in. All I remember is looking out the window feeling so full of joy and peace and love. When I saw our little house on La Loma Street, covered with snow and smoke coming out of the chimney, there was a blanket of contentment that covered me that I could not explain until today.
Going home after the pageant meant a two week break from school. It meant making tamales, cooking posole and red chili. Baking biscochitos and Grandma’s famous rolls . Lighting luminarias and watching all those Christmas shows on T.V. when there were no pausing or recording them for later. Oh the anticipation!
To me those memories mean more to me than anything I can open under the tree. In fact, if you asked me what I got all those years ago, I can’t remember. Maybe a doll, some clothes, a game or two. Of course the one gift I will always remember, which I wrote about before. But what comes to mind when I think about Christmas’ past are the moments I shared with friends and family. What makes this time of year the best time of year is that we get to be with people who matter. Of course this year, no matter what this Christmas will look like, may look a little different, never the less, we should all take time to remember all the wonderful memories we have made. Not to rub in the fact that we might be missing out this year, but to remind us that we are truly blessed. Even if your past ones were not all warm and fuzzy, I definitely have some memories of the dysfunction of my family, but even then, I think, how wonderful it is to be alive!
The last I heard Mrs. Murphy passed away in 2013, but the gift she gave us was one that was priceless. I will still sing my little heart out even though I wasn’t selected for a solo, because I love singing, just not in public! I also love my people, and just like the pageant, my people are in my heart and mind bringing good tidings, joy and peace.
Due to the COVID 19 Pandemic am I unable to raid my parents photo album and upload the pictures that were taken during these pageants. My parents do not have a computer or internet to send me these precious moments of time. So if you happen to have been a part of these and have some pictures, please post or send them to me firstname.lastname@example.org. I want to add them to this piece. Thank you!