'The Lord has come': St. Mary School brings Christmas to life

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An angel, up past her bedtime, swirled in her Sunday dress as a 6-year-old Wise Man solemnly adjusted his gold paper crown. It was moments before a big event for the smallest students at St. Mary School in Alexandria Dec. 17. Kindergartners and first-graders were about to bring the Christmas story to life in the school gym with wide grins, belted lyrics and contagious joy.

"Tonight is about Baby Jesus," said kindergartner Daniella Shiels Cobar, who played Mary in this year's play.

"That's because even though He's a baby, He's the King, He's God," she said, tenderly cradling a swaddled doll before being guided from her classroom into the gym.

Daniella, with missing teeth and thoughtful demeanor, was one of more than 150 children in "Follow the Star," the selected musical for one of the Old Town school's annual Christmas plays.

Each year the kindergartners and first-graders put on a Christmas-themed performance on one night, and second- and third-graders perform a different play on a separate evening. The performance varies from year to year, but it always has a religious element, said Nicole Luechtefeld, music teacher at St. Mary who directed and choreographed the productions.

The night started with a prayer by Father Edward C. Hathaway, St. Mary pastor, who said the children's performance "reminds us of the beauty, humility and kindness of Our Lord."

Kindergartners wore gold tinsel halos as angels; first-graders donned crowns as kings. Four students from each of the three kindergarten classes were selected to be part of the Nativity scene, and first-graders narrated the story of the Magi's journey to the Holy Family.

"The kids can read about the birth of Jesus, and they can hear about it, but when they act it out themselves they can really picture it," Luechtefeld said.

The play included classics like "We Three Kings," "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World," with movements put with nearly every word.

Pairing music with movement helps the children memorize the songs more easily, said Luechtefeld, adding that it also "helps control their wiggles."

Luechtefeld said when the Nativity story is discussed as part of rehearsals, students often are drawn to the shepherds. "They like that they were everyday people and that everyday people had to speak of the good news," she said. "They can kind of relate to it - that they are everyday students and they, too, need to spread the good news of God."

For many of the approximately 450 people packed into the gym to watch, the play is a Christmas tradition. Kindergartner Andrew Magee, an angel, was following in the footsteps of his two older siblings.

"This is a great experience every year because it keeps the focus where it should be," said Andrew's mom, Kathleen Porter-Magee. "And it's so special for Andrew to have his two siblings come out and watch him this time."

The play ended with a surprise performance of "Feliz Navidad." As parents furiously snapped photos, students swayed back and forth playing imaginary maracas with gusto.

Kindergartner Emily Capistran liked the surprise tune, but her favorite part of the night was singing "Joy to the World."

"The song makes me feel really happy," she said, trying to straighten a lopsided halo, "because the world is a really special place."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015