Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

St. Patrick School teachers are also veteran Christmas program producers

Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Dec. 7, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Students at St. Patrick School, Spokane, are busy rehearsing this year’s Christmas play, (IR photo)

Parents of Catholic school kids are familiar with the annual school Christmas program. In one way or another, this annual event re-tells the story of Mary, Joseph, and the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

While everyone enjoys whatever program a Catholic school offers, it’s no small accomplishment for teachers to produce a creative Christmas program each year when December rolls around.

For at least two decades, two teachers at Spokane’s St. Patrick School have been leading youngsters through Christmas programs that are fun for the kids, a delight for parents, and faithful to the religious meaning of Christmas. Each December, first grade teacher Becky Clift (for 20 years) and second grade teacher Linda Eber (23 years) have staged a Christmas program that involves all of the school’s students and packs St. Patrick Church for two performances guaranteed to revive the Christmas spirit in even the Scroogiest of hearts. Clift directs the program as a whole, Eber oversees the musical component.

“We use a purchased program,” said Clift, “one that fits the 8th grade class.” The eighth graders, and some years at least some of the seventh graders, always take the lead roles in the play portion of the program. “This year, actually,” Clift said, “both eighth and seventh graders are the actors, because there is a huge cast, 27 parts.

This year’s story focuses on the Bethlehem innkeeper, Benjamin.

“Everyone is coming to Bethlehem for the census,” said Clift. Benjamin decides to capitalize on the influx. At first, he turns away Mary and Joseph, “but he has a change of heart…. So it’s a re-telling of what happened when he turned them away and they ended up in his stable.”

Planning for the annual Christmas program begins as early as July, said Linda Eber. “I’ll scan through the plays,” she said. “We now own about eight or nine, so we can be on this cycle of doing them.” The eighth graders are featured performers, not only for age, but because “they’re the leaders of the school,” she said. The play “is their opportunity to have the responsibility of not only being the actors, but they learn the choreography, they learn the lighting, they learn the sets, they’re learning the entire background work that it takes to do a production.” Their eighth grade Christmas production “is something they look forward to from the time they’re very young.”

Eber and Clift try to match the Christmas program with specific students that year. “Some of our plays are really big,” said Eber, requiring “a lot of actors and a lot of set changes,” ideal for “a particularly talented or dynamic class. Other times, we have a smaller program. But we always have a play with a turning point, where someone has a conversion to seeing Jesus as ‘the reason for the season,’ or a renewal of that spiritual depth. It always needs to show the Nativity, even if it’s just a retelling of the actual Gospel account itself of Jesus being born. Also, it has to have quality music, something that the students are really going to learn. We don’t have a formal music program at St. Pat’s, given our resources, so we use this opportunity to really teach music skills. We also try to see that it always includes some of the basic Christmas carols that the students need to know.”

Even when they repeat a play from several years before, new elements are introduced. This year’s play, Miracle on Bethlehem Street, was performed in 1998, but the 2006 production includes new choreography and some new costumes.

One of the most popular of the Christmas programs used at St. Patrick is titled Arch the Angel. “It is a particularly fine story that the students can identify with,” said Eber.

Although this year’s play comes from a generic Christian publisher, Clift and Eber go through the script and other materials to make sure that nothing is contrary to Catholic doctrine. “As the director, if I need to re-write it to be more Catholic, I re-write it,” said Clift. “One time the script said, ‘Rev. So-and So,’ and I re-wrote it as ‘Pope John Paul II.’”

“Becky re-writes to fit the cast,” said Eber. “Sometimes we need a few more parts, so she adds more parts. Or maybe the part is written for a boy, but she needs it to be for a girl. Sometimes the jokes need to be updated, so Becky does that, too.”

For teachers or parents new to putting on a Christmas program, Becky Clift has a bit of advice: “You have to be prepared to work really, really hard.”

(This year’s Christmas program at St. Patrick School will be performed twice: Wednesday, Dec. 13, at 10 a.m., and Thursday, Dec. 14, at 7 p.m. The school is located at 2706 N. Queen in Spokane. For information, call the school office: 487-2830.)

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