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December 12. 2012 8:17PM

Pageant celebrates true meaning of Christmas


Anastasia Lopez and her new baby, Karina, play Mary and Jesus in Nashua's Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints' annual Nativity Pageant. (BARBARA TAORMINA/Union Leader Correspondent)

It's a tough job, but someone has to remind us why we are singing these songs, eating all these cookies and maxing out credits cards on piles of gifts.

Last weekend, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints in Nashua gave it a try with their annual Nativity Pageant. Dozens of kids and adults and one neighborly horse presented a 20-minute play with a prerecorded narration that told the story of Christmas.

"This is our 24th annual performance," said Bishop Kevin Gray, who said a prayer with the cast before the first of four shows early Saturday night. Gray told the actors that the pageant was presented as a community service to tell others about Jesus' birthday.

There were no bright lights or big signs or sounds to draw a crowd. The performance took place in the back of the church on Concord Street about a mile from downtown Nashua. It was dark, cold and quiet, and anyone who didn't know where to go may have been unable to find it.

But the atmosphere seemed to capture the emotions and themes of Christmas. And while there were lots of empty seats at Saturday's first show, the cast was so involved in the story and its powerful message of hope, no one seemed to notice.

"They spend a lot of time rehearsing," said Gray. "And it's people of all ages. And besides everyone you see here, are many more who worked on the set, costumes and other things."

Church member Adam Davis and his son, Zachery, were tying up some technical details just before the show.

"We've been here since noon working on the lights," said Davis, who managed to create Broadway effects in a church parking lot with some makeshift stage lights.

In the past, sheep and other live animals have played parts in the pageant, but this year's performance featured just one horse on loan from a neighbor of the church.

"Not as many people raise animals around here as they used to," said Gray.

Casting wasn't as difficult for other roles, especially for the many angels and shepherds played by children and teens.

"It's fun playing an angel," said Elizabeth Gustafson, who, like her friend Alyssa Petrie, seemed happy with her long white satin robe and small silver wings.

Anastasia and Ramon Lopez played Mary and Joseph a couple years ago when they had their first baby. This year, they had a second child, and the parents and new baby were back for an encore performance as the Holy Family.


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