By Marie Mitchell
You’ve heard of the Herdmans, right? The worst kids in the history of the world. All six of them curse, cheat and smoke cigars. They bully other kids—and each other. They even set a dilapidated tool shed on fire once—then ate the firefighters’ donuts while they battled the blaze.
Fortunately, the unruly Herdmans are fictional, created by Barbara Robinson. In her book “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” the Herdmans come to church for the first time—to get free food. Through intimidation, they’re cast in the Christmas play even though they’d never heard of Jesus before, and they end up stealing the show.
It’s hard to imagine that this bunch of misfits could teach us a lesson about the true meaning of Christmas, but they do in their own bizarre way.
Imogene, as Mother Mary, thinks it’s a mother’s prerogative to name her baby whatever she wants. But she agrees to call the baby, Jesus, as an Angel instructed, instead of her choice, Willie.
The Herdmans are upset about tying the baby up in wadded up (swaddling) clothes and sticking him in a feeding trough. “Where are the welfare workers?” they wonder.
They’re outraged by evil King Herod being so jealous of Jesus that he ordered the baby to be killed. Ralph, as Joseph, offers to chop off Herod’s arms instead. Leroy wants to rename the play “Revenge at Bethlehem.”
Dissatisfied with presents the Wise Men bring, the Herdmans offer their own Christmas ham, from the welfare worker, as a more practical gift. And they refuse to take it back after the play is over.
At the end, everyone agrees the Herdmans made the Christmas story more meaningful because the worst children in the history of the world experienced Christ’s birth for the first time with a sense of wonderment. And they helped others recapture their own fascination with Jesus’ journey.
If you’re looking for a fresh perspective this holiday season, The First United Methodist Church is performing “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” Sunday, Dec. 9, at 6 p.m. in their Multi-Ministry Center.
Pastor Bruce Nettleton has turned the play version of the book into a musical. He’s written lyrics and music to six songs to accompany more traditional Christmas hymns. “Little Baby Jesus” reminds us:
Little Baby Jesus, sleeping in the stall,
We know you came to save us. You love us one and all,
Not just the rich and loveable, not just the privileged few,
Little Baby Jesus,
We love you.