Joy, not stress. Peace, not frenzy. That will be the spirit and the message this Sunday when St. Joseph’s Parish gives a gift to Los Banos in “A Christmas Presentation.”
The free event will be at 2:30 p.m. and again at 4:30 p.m. in the church. It features third graders from the parish’s religious education program who are preparing for their first communion this spring supported by several teenagers from the parish’s confirmation class and members of the choir who regularly sing at the 5:30 Saturday evening Mass.
This is the second year of A Christmas Presentation, and once again it is directed by St. Joseph’s parishioner, Joan Spevak.
“This year’s celebration will involve more children and more carols than last year’s,” Joan said.
“At a time when many families are feeling stressed because of the pressures of the holiday season,” she continued, “we want to remind them of the beautiful story of Christmas. And we want to show that Christ came for everyone, which is why we have four wise men representing the Italian, Portuguese, Hispanic and Basque cultures of the parish and a fifth wise man to represent all of the other cultures in our church and community. We will also have children dressed as shepherds and angels.”
The choir, which includes children and adults, has been practicing for months singing more than a dozen Christmas carols. One of the boys in the choir, Andrew Sousa, will sing a carol in Portuguese.
Last year’s Christmas presentation was the first time in recent memory that St. Joseph’s parish had a special event before Christmas involving a choir and young people in costume. It attracted only a small audience.
This year, Father Efrain Martinez, St. Joseph’s pastor, expects a larger turnout. He has encouraged every third grader in the first communion class to participate, and many accepted his invitation.
I attended last year’s event and talked with several others who attended. They told me the experience inspired them to go beyond the commercialism of the season to have a holier Christmas. I felt the same, and I believe that would have been true even if the director of the choir and the presentation hadn’t been my sister.
As a long-time member of the parish, I was thankful that someone like Joan would spend months preparing for a Christmas event that could be appreciated by the parish and the community.
Joan stressed that she hopes everyone of all religious denominations would feel welcome and encouraged to attend. “The story of the nativity is appreciated by all Christians,” she said. “It is a story that everyone who has read the Gospels is familiar with. So everyone should enjoy the narrative and the songs.”
I’m looking forward to Sunday’s event. I haven’t decided whether to attend the 2:30 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. presentation.
In either case I expect to feel the same welcome sense of peace and joy I felt last year – maybe even more so, since there will be more children involved this year. It comes as a welcome relief from the anxiety many people feel before Christmas.
The story of the nativity of Christ has no commercials and no pressure. As St. Joseph’s pageant will remind is, it’s a story of poor couple who traveled many miles only to find no place to stay except a barn, a difficult place indeed to give birth.
I also appreciate the presence of shepherds, living in an area where sheep are raised and can often be seen grazing in flocks. Angels provide for me both calm and energy. And, oh, how I appreciate wise men these days. It seems we have so few, at least those featured in today’s news.
I hope there’s a good turnout Sunday, including both parishioners from St. Joseph’s and many others from the community who are not from the parish but appreciate the story of the nativity and the essence of Christmas.
If this event, amid all the turmoil of life today, increases a sense of peace and joy in Los Banos, then the hours of preparation and work that have gone into St. Joseph’s Christmas Presentation this Sunday will have been worth it.
On another note: My compliments to the organization Wreaths Across America, which has worked hard to encourage donations and enlist volunteers to place evergreen wreaths Saturday at the graves of veterans buried at Arlington National Cemetery and 1,200 other locations, including the nearby San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella.
John Spevak is a resident of Los Banos; he wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.