Students sing songs in a choir arrangement in-between the play.
Students perform a choral arrangement for the annual Christmas showcase at Blessed Sacrament Catholic School. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

On the seventh day before Christmas, Blessed Sacrament Catholic School’s holiday production enchanted its audience with 13 young reindeer fussing with their antlers, 19 elves jingling with bells, and 10 snowmen swallowed up in oversized top hats.

The young performers, part of the school’s annual Christmas showcase, fidgeted in their pews Tuesday evening, waiting for showtime. Some were wracked with pre-show jitters.

The big production, an hourlong show that would feature five songs from a choir, a performance by a handbell ensemble, and a meaningful holiday message delivered by a cast of older elementary students in a short play, drew more than 100 doting parents to the warmly lit Blessed Sacrament sanctuary the week before Dec. 25.

The morning of the show, the performers ran through the schedule, shuffling onto stage to stand in their assigned spots, which had been determined by the steadfast rule that the shortest stand in front and the tallest in the back. The performers paused to measure if any height changes had occurred since their last time onstage the previous week as teachers gave feedback, asking students to speak louder or face the would-be audience.

1st and 2nd grade performers stand in a line as they practice singing holiday themed songs for the show.
First- and second-grade singers stand in a line during a rehearsal for for the show. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

At the time, students were smiling and calm, ready to perform. But as the show approached, nerves set in.

“I’m excited, but really nervous,” third-grade student and choir singer Nina, 8, said before the show started. “I’m scared something bad is going to happen and I don’t want to mess up.”

“We’re going to have to yell our lungs out,” added Demetria, a fourth-grade student seated on the choir risers. “We’ve been practicing for forever and I want it to be good.”

Students ran through the show five or six times before the night of the performance, having worked since October with music teacher Dorothy Marton to memorize the songs and fine-tune the melodies.

“They are no longer singing along with the kids on the accompaniment track, so they are singing themselves,” Marton said. “There’s a lot of syncopation in the music and irregular rhythms, so they’ve done a great job.”

The show began promptly at 6:30 p.m. with the handbell choir taking its place onstage in assigned groups. Students held a variety of bells that emitted different rings and looked intently at their teachers, crouched low in front of the pews, for the signal to sound their instruments.

A student rhythmically beats a hollow tube during a rehearsal of “Jingle Bells” at Blessed Sacrament. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The bell performance of “Jingle Bells” was followed by a reading of The Night Before Christmas and a poem focused on the meaning of the holiday, giving the pre-kindergarten students time to make their way onstage to perform another rendition of “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” A kindergarten class dressed as elves took the stage next, with a first-grade class of snowmen on deck immediately after.

At any given time, 10 different parents stood at their seats, holding phones to film the performance. Thunderous applause followed each class’ songs, and the little faces that seconds before had been focused on getting the words right lit up in recognition of the receptive crowd.

Halfway through, the show progressed to the main event: “Crazy, Busy, Peaceful, Holy Night.”

The stage was set for a festive play, with a backdrop illustrating a heavily ornamented tree and stockings hung by a stone fireplace. The elementary actors took their places onstage when an unexpected hiccup occurred.

An actress had gone missing.

The young performer given a key role hadn’t entered the stage in time to deliver a crucial line. A moment of panic overtook the other actors as they looked around, wondering how to progress the plot of the play.

Faces exchanged blank stares, and just as one of the actors onstage looked as if he was about to make an excuse to run offstage and find his missing counterpart, relief came.

The missing actress, fifth-grade student Grace, came running with a microphone in hand. The show went on.

The play focused on the idea that the holidays can be a hectic time, frenzied for families who are trying to transport children to various commitments and still celebrate the spirit of the season.

Students and teachers from Blessed Sacrament Catholic School prepare for
Students and teachers from Blessed Sacrament Catholic School prepare for the show. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

It was punctuated with jokes certain to secure boisterous laughter from proud parents – “the sheep have been baaaad this year” – and ended with the actors bringing home their message, breaking the fourth wall to instill in parents the poignant notion that there’s more to Christmas than just presents and decorations.

Parents were ecstatic with the show. Some rose to their feet to give their students a standing ovation. Nervous grins turned to beaming smiles.

Excited reindeer who had shed their antlers throughout the performance ran to hug family members and receive praise for their rendition of classic holiday songs.

“Mama, did you hear me sing? Do you want me to sing again?” one of the kindergarten elves asked, in search of an encore.

And the snowmen? They were happy once they were out from under the hot lights.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.