There once was a wonderful made-for-TV movie in the 1980s called “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” which aired on ABC. It was adapted from a novel (a fact I only learned about a year ago after I found the paperback at my local Thrift Store for 50 cents), and is hands-down one of my favorite Christmas movies. It’s a shame that this hasn’t made its way to regular seasonal airings on ABC, or just ABC Family. I don’t know why they wouldn’t continue to show this movie, because it is awesome, and funny, and truly a great holiday movie.
I had to buy a DVD of it a few years ago through some Christian website, but you can now watch it, split up into a few parts, via YouTube for free.
Starring Loretta Swit (from M*A*S*H) and a very young Fairuza Balk as her daughter (and the third-wall-breaking narrator), it tells the story of a woman who has to step in last-minute to help organize and put on her kids’ Christmas play at their local church. The teacher who usually does it wound up breaking her leg, and so in comes a reluctant Loretta Swit to keeps things moving in an orderly fashion.
However, at the heart of the movie is a group (well, more like a gang) of urchin siblings, the Herdmans. The kids come to their religious instruction class and regularly turn things upside down, bully the other kids, smoke in the bathroom, and are a general nuisance for all. The Christmas pageant is never even a concern of theirs… until of course THIS year. So then it becomes Swit’s responsibility to try and incorporate ALL of the children into the play, which means that Imogene, the main meanie of the Herdman gang, now all of a sudden wants to play Mary, infuriating the virginal classmate who always plays the role. Another Herdman sister insists that her role, the Angel of the Lord,is really “The Mighty Marvel” and so she ad libs “SHAZAAAAAM!” when she approaches the Wise Men.
With the Herdmans fully entrenched in the festivities, the other classmates, and most of the parishioners, think the whole event will be nothing short of a disaster. So of course the whole town turns out to see the production. Let’s just say chaos, and hilarity ensue during the Christmas Pageant (a title that Gladys Herdman thinks should be changed to “Revenge at Bethlehem,” after she makes some colorful suggestions as to how the whole plot with Herod is supposed to pan out).
A YouTube user has helpfully compiled a “mini movie” from the show, but I do recommend you take the time to watch the whole show. It’s heartwarming and a perfect movie for the holiday season.