By Susan Watson
The Christmas Story nativity pageant at the Church of the Holy Trinity is one of Toronto’s most beloved and longest running holiday traditions.
The pageant, which has been thrilling audiences for more than 80 years, features approximately 100 rotating, volunteer cast members, including many children and a real baby in the role of Jesus. Professional sound and lighting and rousing music performed by professional musicians round out the show.
Every year we encounter our share of challenges as well as many small miracles. Some of the stories are retold among the cast and crew year after year.
There’s the comic folklore tale of the wardrobe malfunction when the elastic snapped on Joseph’s boxer shorts during the ‘walk to Bethlehem’.
And then there is the real drama of the fire in 1977 that spread from the neighbouring Eaton’s warehouses and destroyed the roof of the church. That Christmas, performances were moved to the Eaton Centre, which is next door to the church.
A former assistant director is legendary for her ability to persuade families shopping at the busy Eaton Centre to lend us their baby to play the baby Jesus because the scheduled performer had not shown up. Over the years we’ve had girl and boy babies of every religion and ethnic origin.
But in 2017 I think we hit the jackpot of stories.
The baby scheduled to play baby Jesus was down with a cold and I had resigned myself to using a doll as a stand in when Doug Moffatt, the head usher, told me there was a family in the audience with a baby girl who could play Jesus – and the parents were from Nazareth.
At first I thought he was joking. But it turned out Reem and Anan Mazzawi who had arrived early for the show with their daughters, 5-year old Noor and baby Tala were indeed from Nazareth. Not only that, baby Tala came from a long line of performers. Her grandparents run a theatre company and dance troupe in Nazareth and Reem, the baby’s mother, has a PhD in education and drama therapy.
Tala did a star performance that night not fussing once and interacting on cue with all the performers. One audience member later commented that it was a perfect Toronto moment. It certainly captured the imagination of Torontonians with Reem and Anan suddenly finding themselves fielding calls from print and radio media.
The Mazzawis’ connection to the Christmas story continues this year with Tala’s big sister Noor joining the cast as an angel.
The Christmas story is a great way to take a break from this hectic time of year and from the negativities of our troubled world to enjoy the true spirit of the holiday season – joy, open hearts, kindness and hope.
The 2018 Christmas Story runs December 7-9, 14-16 & 21-23 at the Church of the Holy Trinity. Admission is by donation. Reservations are recommended: www.thechristmasstory.ca, 416-598-4521 Ext. 301
Susan Watson joined the cast of The Christmas Story in 1983 in the roles of narrator and Rachel. She has been the director since 1990. Susan lives in Guelph, Ont. and is a member of the congregation at the Church of the Holy Trinity.