Do you remember the one-room schools where the Christmas concert was the highlight of the year? Plays, skits, poems and songs made up the program, along with the nativity pageant, which gave us the reason for Christmas. I attended a one-room school where Grades 1 to 8 were taught. In early November the classes waited eagerly for the teacher to choose the selections to assign to the students. Then we had to copy these on foolscap and underline our part and memorize. The younger children’s parts were copied by the teacher or older students, and we took turns helping them memorize.
Practice could then begin in earnest. While students performed their parts, the rest worked on Christmas decorations and memorizing. Often mothers sewed the costumes and helped us memorize at home.
Fathers built a stage of wooden planks and strung wire on which white bedsheets were hung for the curtains, and a Christmas tree was brought in and decorated. The classroom was transformed into a marvelous theatre where we were the stars.
About two weeks before the concert, whole days were set aside for practising. Many students memorized everything, so if prompting was needed or if a pupil got sick the night of the performance, a stand-in was always ready.
The day of the concert fi- nally arrived and we were sent home early to do our chores and get bathed and ready. After an early supper we donned our best clothes and hurried back to school, nervously awaiting the neighbours who came from miles around. From the singing of “O Canada” to the final act of the nativity pageant, and “God Save the Queen,” we proudly performed. The program culminated in Santa’s visit. He brought a small gift for every student and the preschoolers, as well as a bag of candy, peanuts, an orange and apple. Many of us received very few purchased treats at home so these bags were much anticipated.
As children we never realized the educational benefits of the concert – we just enjoyed the event. Drama, with its acting, memorizing and grace that developed in children allowed us to gain confidence and satisfaction in performing for others. Camaraderie of classmates was built while encouraging those who had difficulty memorizing, and helping the younger ones with their parts and costumes. None of my classmates ever went on to become actors, but those years in the limelight built memories that bring back the excitement from days gone by.
– Joanne Rawluk writes from Gypsumville, Manitoba