Capturing The Christmas Spirit

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Pete Aleshire photos

For the annual “Spirit of Christmas,”

The churches gave to us:

12 shepherds flocking,

Eleven angles singing,

Ten dancers spinning,

Nine actors acting,

Eight musicians strumming,

Seven children leaping,

Six kids a caroling,

Five golden songs.

Four pretty soloists,

Three wise men,

Two holy parents,

And a baby Jesus who slept through the whole darn thing.

Well, the numbers are likely off along with the meter, but the brimming, joyful cast who staged the annual “Spirit of Christmas” pageant last Sunday perfectly captured the mingling of joy and reverence the season brings.

A happy audience crowded the 800-seat Payson High School Auditorium twice on Sunday to savor the joy of the season. The brimming cast responded with a madcap mixture of songs, skits, mini-sermons and unexpected delights, laid as heartfelt gifts in the straw of the manger.

You might have predicted the wise men, shepherds, the drummer boy, the Christmas carols and earnest discussions between the redeemed father and the troubled teenager.

But who could have foreseen the three-foot-tall, black-clad ninjas, the pyramid of yo-yo-ers, the professional flamenco guitarist or the tumblers in camouflage?

Eric Santana and Stephanie Connolly directed the sprawling, joyful extravaganza, which each year demonstrates not only the happy creativity of Rim Country’s treasure of churches, but the surprisingly professional quality of the musicians in the congregations.

Some 70 people labored every weekend for more than two months to stage the pageant, with its distinctive mix of tearful fervor, silly jokes, drop-dead-cute kids, ba-da-bom humor and heartfelt reverence.

The band included Linda Jackson, Patricia Fleeger, Don Gibson, Isaac Bradford, Jared Varner, Ric Quigley and Les Barr. They produced a rich, soaring, subtle sound throughout the nearly two-hour performance, under the expert direction of Eric Santana.

The array of singers never hit a false note, including Melissa Walden, Lora Henning, Christie Varner, Macie Chernov, Dan Cobb, Mike Stoll and Isaac Bradford.

Periodically, the cavorting shepherds, clowns, dancing angels and whoknowswhat went careening down the aisle, scattering balloons and grins throughout the appreciative audience, touch­ed to tears and laughter by the outburst of Christmas spirit.

In the end, Matt Neuman and Janelle Hauptman playing Mary and Joseph took center stage with Leeanna Johnson doubling as the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes sleeping blissfully in the spotlight. Cast members crowded around, reaching out in joy and tenderness to touch the wrappings of the baby — like those wise men long ago who saw the child and fell down and opened up their treasures, gold and frankincense and myrrh — the Word made flesh to dwell among us, full of grace and truth.

That baby never fussed a wink throughout the long performance.

Kind of a miracle.

Gives you hope — along with the little ninjas, the yoyo team and the songs of angels — all infused with the “Spirit of Christmas.”

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