The cast of The Christmas Story sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” at a dress rehearsal. The play has been performed at the Church of the Holy Trinity since 1938. Photo by Jed de los Reyes

Christmas play shows the season’s meaning

By  Jed de los Reyes, Youth Speak News
  • December 13, 2011

TORONTO - While people are busy shopping at the Eaton Centre this Christmas season, a reminder of the true meaning behind the season will be present right next door to it.

Since 1938, The Christmas Story has been performed at the Church of the Holy Trinity, reminding audiences why we celebrate Christmas. 

Being performed for its 74th season this year, the Nativity play tradition has endured, reaching out to both veteran and new audience members.

“I feel really good afterwards because I just spread the message of Christmas to strangers,” said Nadia Stanichevsky, who is playing the role of Mary in this year’s production. 

Based on a production from the St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields Church in England, more than 100 volunteers make up its two rotating casts and crew.

Two narrators provide the play’s dialogue — onstage actors move accordingly — and a professional choir unseen by the audience performs hymns such as “Holy, Holy,” “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” accompanied by the church’s massive organ.

Older members usually take on roles of the Wise Men and King Herod, while children and youth — who make up a majority of the cast — usually act as shepherds and angels.

The youngest members, only a few months old, play the most important role: baby Jesus.

Stanichevsky, is a nine-year veteran of the production. The member of the St. Bonaventure youth ministry and first-year social sciences student at the University of Toronto said she’s glad she started participating from a young age as it has always given her an understanding of the meaning of Christmas.

“Last year, I went through a lot of nerve-wracking moments,” she said. “I had to carry a real baby, so my worst fear was tripping on my dress and dropping it.”

And although the play takes place at an Anglican parish, Catholic youth and children take part as well.

Frankie Nusink, 13, started as a shepherd five years ago but is currently part of the tech crew, sneaking onstage to set up and remove props from the stage. While it’s a job requiring plenty of lifting and calculated timing, it’s worth it because “it’s good to be in a play that tells people about God.”

As would be expected from any performance, many problems must be overcome each year. The more common ones include stage fright and tardiness, as many of the participants commute from as far as Whitby, east of Toronto.

One of the Wise Men’s pages, Bea Nusink, 10, shared a fond memory: “One year, there were twins who were both baby Jesus, and they kept switching them around because they kept crying.”

In 74 years, the parish has never missed a season of The Christmas Story, even following a fire in 1975 that damaged the Church. The play was held in the neighbouring Eaton Centre instead.

Many cast members return to The Christmas Story annually, such as 11-year-old Kevin Costa, who has been performing in it since age four. 

“After being with them so many times, it feels like my own miniature family,” said Costa. “It’s warm, it’s homey and I’m always so happy to see who comes to the show.” 

The Christmas Story runs just over an hour and will be performed at the Church of the Holy Trinity Dec. 16-18 and 22-24. While there is no ticket cost, there is a suggested donation amount of $15 for adults and $5 for children.

(De los Reyes, 18, is a first-year French Studies student at York University.)

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