Curtain falls on Christmas tradition

Scenes from the rehearse of the annual Christmas pageant at Northside Baptist Church.
  • CHRISTMAS PAGEANT THEMES

  • 2011: "Rio"

    2010: "Just Imagine ... Christmas"

    2009: "Silver Bells"

    2007: "Hooray, It's Christmastime"

    2006: "Rockin' & Rollin' Christmas"

    2004: "Wonderful Winter Wonderland"

    2003: "Christmas for America"

Christmas in Victoria is marked with many traditions: the annual lighting of the downtown courthouse, Victoria's Christmas parade and Northside Baptist's Christmas pageant.

But this season, Christmas will be minus one tradition.

After 27 years of sharing the message of Christ through theater and song, Northside Baptist pageant director Connie Ewing is stepping down from her post.

And without Ewing, church officials have decided the pageant cannot go on.

"It's been a wonderful experience, but I think it's just time to move on," Ewing said, discussing her difficult decision to walk away from the pageant.

Without Ewing's many contributions to the show - including months of preparation, annual theme and music selection, and weeks of directing hundreds of actors, singers and volunteers - Northside music minister and pageant co-director, John Woods, said the show could not survive without her.

"When she told us she was leaving, it sort of made us evaluate whether it was possible to do this without her. And we came to the conclusion that it wasn't," Woods said. "What a lot of people don't know is the pageant has always been a free gift to the community, and Connie is completely uncompensated. She works on it year-round. It truly is her full time job."

As church officials discussed the future of the pageant without Ewing as director, Woods said they realized her efforts could not be matched.

Ewing insists the decision to step down from directing the pageant she began nearly three decades ago was prayerfully and thoughtfully made.

She first considered leaving the role four years ago, with the intention of stepping down from her directorial role two years later.

"I ended up staying another two years," Ewing giggled.

In recent decades, Northside's pageant has become a staple in the community and a beloved Christmas tradition.

In recent years, pageant themes, such as "Rio," "Just Imagine ... Christmas," and "Silver Bells," have drawn more than a quarter million attendees to the show - which offers live barnyard animals, singing and dancing, and a unique Christ-filled theme each year.

Ewing said the pageant began in 1985 with a $1,500 budget, small audience, three scenes, three songs, and a collection of Christmas carols.

"We were sold out the first year. Each year it's grown and grown, and it has been taken care of by God," Ewing said. "It was a wonderful experience for all of us."

Woods said the church is in mourning since the news was released last week about discontinuing the show.

"Our church is really going through a grieving process . and we just have to trust that God has us in his hands," Woods said.

Kristi McCleskey, a pageant cast member since the show's inception 27 years ago, said the end of the show is bittersweet.

"I've been doing it since the beginning, but I know the church will be doing something for the community soon," McCleskey said. "It's been a wonderful opportunity."

She and her husband Howard participated in the pageant before they were married, so this holiday season will the first without the Christmas pageant.

"We've never had Christmas without pageant, but maybe I'll get my Christmas shopping done early this year," she said.

Church members were informed of the show's end several days ago in a letter and posted on the church's website.

"We honor and congratulate Connie for the past 27 years, as she and Mickey (Ewing) created a gift we have all had a part in giving. Pageant is a gift infused with Connie's talent, dedication and passion," the letter read.

"When Victoria and the surrounding communities think of Pageant, they think of Jesus Christ. When Northside thinks of Pageant, we think of Jesus Christ sparkling through Connie."

Ewing said she has enjoyed many wonderful pageant moments through the years, but said one of her favorite themes was the year they performed "Hawaii."

"We brought in a young lady who was on a dance team in Hawaii, and she was staying in the Woodlands. She worked with us on our dances that year. That's one of prettiest ones we've ever done. That was one of my favorites," she said.

Without the hustle and bustle of pageant this year, Woods said church members will have an opportunity to enjoy the Christmas season and celebrate the birth of Jesus.

"This year, we've talked about taking it a little easier and celebrating past years," Woods said.

And even though the pageant will not continue, Ewing is not moving away from her musical role at the church.

"Connie isn't stepping away from our church ministry; she's just stepping away from the pageant," Woods said.

Woods and Ewing agree there is nothing that can replace the pageant, but each are excited to experience and develop new Christmas traditions at the church.

"Connie and I have worked happily together for the last three years, and I'm looking forward to many more years working alongside her on the music and worship ministry staff," Woods said.

"We're excited to look to the future and see what the future holds," Ewing said.