Pageant will take place Saturday on Shoreby Hill Green
Jamestown’s 36th annual Christmas pageant will stick to tradition, starting at 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve on the Shoreby Hill Green, Mary Waddington said. If all goes according to scripture and verse, the Christmas tree lights will twinkle on precisely 20 minutes later, during the chorus of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
“We follow the same exact program [every year],” Waddington said, who is the director of the pageant for the second year in a row. She said the songs and verses are all timed, and they pretty much operate on the same schedule as when founder Jeanne Bunkley organized the first pageant in 1975.
And yet, every year one part of the pageant is a little different, she said, and that’s the animals that come to help enact the manger scene.
In the Jamestown pageant, the animals have always had roles. And that’s also due to tradition. St. Francis of Assisi organized the first living Nativity in 1223 in Greccio, Italy, and, of course, the animals participated in his production. As for animals for the Jamestown Christmas pageant, they come from different local farms, she said.
A goat, a sheep and a donkey are coming this year from Vivi Hutchinson’s farm, and islanders may remember their surprise when she walked her donkey Rose to the pageant last year.
“People kept stopping me to say, ‘Where are you going with that donkey’” Hutchinson said.
She said that they walked right down Howland Avenue, and crossed Narragansett Avenue in front of St. Mark Church.
“People were just going into the service,” she said, so the timing was magical.
She intends to bring Rose to the pageant again this year.
“Oh, it’s so sweet,” she said. “It is so lovely with the donkey.” The donkey really brings the crèche scene to life, she said. The sheep and the goat are small animals, and although people can hear them, they’re hard to see in the dark. Rose is tall; she stands out and brings home the meaning of Christmas, she said.
“She’s bigger and such a poignant animal for the Christmas story,” she said. Plus, Rose also has the gift of perfect timing. The donkey and Hutchinson traveled down Shoreby Hill arriving from the rear of the manger at the exact moment the pageant was starting.
“Rose started to bray,” she said.
Hutchinson braved the downtown streets for nearly a mile to the green with her donkey because Rose was afraid to ride in the trailer.
“I was freezing,” she said, but she kept talking to Rose and encouraging her.
“She was fairly easy but very nervous,” she said. Rose had never walked that far away from farm and pasture. The only problem came at the conclusion of the pageant because the cars scared the donkey. “She started to make a run for it,” Hutchinson said. This year, they will wait until the crowd leaves before they try to walk home, she said.
The only factor that could cancel Rose’s appearance is weather, because if the streets are icy or slippery, she won’t attempt to walk the 450-pound animal.
Rain is the only reason the pageant could be canceled, Waddington said. The reason is that the rain could cause a hazard with the electrical wiring for the sound system and the tree lighting.
Otherwise, the pageant will go on, she said, starting at the recreation center where the participants don costumes and fire up flashlights to help them see the verses in the dark. The procession starts from the rec center and ends at the Shoreby Hill Green.
About 23 people – both adults and children – have roles. Annabel O’Donnell is Mary. Town Council President Mike Schnack is Joseph. Newly elected School Committee member Sarah Baines will portray the first of the three wisemen, and Tim Dwyer and John Andrews round out the trio. Shepherds are John Murphy, Don Richardson and Larry Bartley, of the Lions Club, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Rotary Club, respectively.
The other shepherds are Boy Scouts – Henry Pratt, Liam Gamon, James Lawless, Finn Dwyer and Gaelyn Dwyer. The Girl Scouts – Jackie Ruggieri, Isabelle Varrecchione, Lacey Creeden, Vivian Flaherty, Julie Ruggieri, Lindsey Dickinson, BellaRae Guertin and Claudia Pratt – are the angels. Kristen Pratt is the manger angel, and Ula McCarthy plays the tree angel.
Ray Dunlevy, Jim McLoughlin and Jean Silvia will perform the readings.
The whole community gets behind the pageant, Waddington said. Volunteers do all the work and donate all the expenses. For example, Bill Munger of Conanicut Marina does the wiring and electrical work. Matt Bolles and Kelly Curran provide music with the Jamestown Community Chorus members. Prim Bullock serves as pageant chorus leader.
The Lions Club sponsors the pageant. Committee members are Julie Wilson, Suzanne O’Donnell, Michelle Gibbs, Bill Piva, Andrea Masterson, Jill Goldstein, Susan Pratt, Lisa Lawless, Bob Bailey, Munger, Richardson, Bullock and Bolles.
Bunkley is also expected to attend. She modeled the pageant after the Bronxville, N.Y., pageant she remembered from childhood.