What the Herdmans teach us about the true meaning of Christmas
“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” contains a profound lesson that we all can learn from.
There are numerous Christmas books, plays and movies that all try to get at the essence of Christmas. One surprising book that is often performed as a play or musical is The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson.
It is a humorous take on the annual tradition in many churches of having a Christmas pageant performed by children. This is done in both Protestant and Catholic communities and often the charming innocence of children is on full display, as they don’t fully understand how to keep still during such a performance.
What’s different about The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is that it focuses on a group of children from a family (the Herdmans) who have never received the Gospel message. In fact, the Herdmans are viewed by the local community as “the worst” family around. However, through a series of events they begin attending Sunday school and take over the principal parts in the Christmas pageant.
Everyone expects it will be “the worst” Christmas pageant ever, but instead, something miraculous happens.
The Herdmans are greatly impacted by the Christmas story, and get to the heart of what truly matters. They see Christmas through an unfiltered lens and their child-like innocence shines brightly.
One of the highlights of the story is how the Herdmans portray the Magi. They were supposed to bring the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but instead, they bring a ham.
It was a ham—and right away I knew where it came from. My father was on the church charitable works committee—they give away food baskets at Christmas, and this was the Herdmans’ food-basket ham. It still had the ribbon around it, saying Merry Christmas.
While bringing their Christmas ham might have appeared “irreverent” to some people, it was their honest gift. For the Herdmans, “a ham would make a better present than a lot of perfumed oil.” They approached the pageant as if they were there on that Christmas night and were looking after the practical needs of the child, cold and without proper shelter. In fact, they left the ham in front of the manger that held the baby Jesus and wouldn’t take it back.
The ham was the biggest Christmas present they would ever get, as they were a very poor family with nothing else to give. Instead of keeping it for themselves, they wanted to give it to Jesus.
Surprisingly, that ham, while a humorous gift, provides a perfect meditation for Christmas. It should make us examine our own lives and how we approach Christmas.
Do we give Jesus everything? Do we seek to help the poor and forgotten with practical gifts that can truly help them in their time of need?
The Herdmans were a rough family, broken and wounded, but it was through their brokenness that they were able to receive the true meaning of Christmas and approach the manger with the innocence of little children.
Let’s not forget the lesson of the Herdmans and try to see the beauty of Christmas through their eyes.