It’s standing-room-only every Christmas Eve at Heavenly Rest, when crowds mass on the sidewalk, waiting to get in to see more than 100 children, ages two to 14, appear in the Heavenly Rest Christmas Pageant. With two shows – one at 3:30 p.m. and a repeat performance at 5 p.m. – the Christmas Pageant, originally conceived by Janet Hayes Walker, has been an essential holiday tradition on the Upper East Side for at least 50 years. Admission is free (though we will pass the collection plate!) and there is no charge for children to participate.
Retelling the Nativity story in scripture and carols, over 100 children children from the parish and the community sing every role – Mary, Joseph, the Angel Gabriel, the Three Wise Men, and a score of angels, shepherds, heavenly hosts, and tumblers. Teenagers narrate the story from the pulpit; a handful of live animals appear as well. Pageant alumni (high-schoolers and older) help with lighting, sound, props, and costumes, and offer helping hands for the littlest performers. Production values are humble – a simple stable backdrop, gold tinsel halos, hand-me-down brocade cloaks and wool tunics – but on the afternoon of performance, they seem wondrously transformed.
Children who wish to participate must attend a number of afternoon rehearsals, beginning this year on Wednesday, November 30th. The rehearsal schedule is as follows:
Singing rehearsals: 5:15 pm on Wednesdays, November 30, December 7, and December 14.
Dress Rehearsals: 4-6 pm on Wednesday December 21, Thursday December 22, and Friday December 23.
Performances: 2:30-6 pm Saturday, December 24 (arriving early to get ready for 3:30 and 5 pm Pageants).
Participating children are allowed one excused absence from this schedule.