The Christmas story is in many ways best told by children.That’s what Father Mike Vetrano of the Basilica of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Southampton said at the church’s family pageant on December 18. Approximately 100 children from the religious education program took part, as had many of their parents before them.
Red-ribboned wreaths, Christmas trees with white lights and a Nativity scene added an extra glow to the basilica’s already remarkable grandeur—its white marble tabernacle, stained glass, vaulted ceilings, imposing columns and pastel frescoes.
Angels in tinsel halos and gauze wings, shepherds in flowing head scarves and robes, dancers, and the three kings and their royal court set to trek across the desert filled row upon row of reserved pews. One of the narrators, Robert Sior, took his place in a raised wooden pulpit.
Below him, at the manger, were Mary, in blue, and Joseph, with red hair. They were joined by a live, newborn baby Jesus, eyes wide open as if he were entranced by the chandeliers above.
Gradually, the clear young voices from the choir led each group of actors down the aisle with a song—including a revival-style “Soon and Very Soon,” in which the children’s claps were answered by applause from the audience. All the children in the pews joined the children at the altar, completely filling it up. It was truly a sight to be behold.
The sanctuary was filled with parents and siblings and other well-wishers wearing everything from fur coats to work boots and Santa hats. Whenever something started to go wrong, as things will with children’s performances, there was somebody eager to leap to the rescue.
This year, for the first time, there were live animals in an indoor pen, including a donkey that pawed loudly at the most inopportune times. A chicken flew noisily out of its pen just as the religious education director, Jennifer Ferrantino, was welcoming the audience.
Young women from Tack ‘N’ Go Farms kneeled at the pen to quiet their donkey and grabbed two of the chickens, which one girl calmed on her lap in a pew throughout the performance.
Jennifer Gallagher, the pageant director, held a restless child in one arm even as she directed the show, giving the performers still in the pews a thumbs-up or a cupped ear by way of encouragement.
Parents had cut up sheets for costumes, and Confirmation students had coached younger counterparts. Among the former was Alexandra Dudley, 13, who at a snowy dress rehearsal on December 14 had said she was nervous but that she was proud of the younger children who had worked so hard.
At the pageant, JoAnn Morse, the music director, led the singers through “The Whole World Is Waiting for Love” and “Away in a Manger,” among other Christmas songs. The production ended with “Silent Night,” with everyone in the church singing along.
Katharine Rus and Finuala Cree had sounded literally angelic when they sang their solos: “Breath of Heaven” for Katharine and “O Holy Night” for Finuala.
Speaking of angels, Samantha Brenner—who played Mary and had hoped to ride in on the donkey, which refused to cooperate—at the altar had held the tiny hand of baby Jesus, played by three-month-old Caroline Grace Cenzoprano in her car seat, whenever the onstage action got too noisy. And there were times when the sheep, the goats and even Daffy the donkey, side by side, seemed to look up from their hay to observe the costumed children at the altar.
When Samantha’s father, Chris Brenner, said later that he had tears in his eyes, it was not immediately clear whether they were from laughter or because he’d been so moved.
“It was very sweet. I was very happy,” Ms. Ferrantino said afterward. “It’s what Christmas is about.”