The Herdmans “were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world.” The characters in Barbara Robinson’s “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” lied, stole and smoked cigars. They posted a sign on their front yard that said, “Beware of the cat” and their cat was the meanest looking animal most people had ever seen.
Worse yet, the Herdman kids, and there was one for each grade, never seemed to learn anything in school — except dirty words and secrets about the other children. Teachers would pass them anyway; no teacher wanted two Herdman kids in the same class.
So everyone was surprised when these “outlaws” walked into church one day and took over the annual Christmas pageant.
“Someone should have put Imogene (who cast herself as Mary) out of the pageant, and all the rest of them too,” lamented another child. “They’ll do something terrible and ruin the whole thing.”
And they did.
Just by doing what came naturally, they changed the pageant. For example, during the performance, Imogene burped the baby doll instead of cradling it in her arms and her brothers, playing the wise men, gifted a ham from their food basket, instead of perfumed oil.
Then, as the worst Christmas pageant ever was almost finished, the cast and the audience began singing the last carol on the program, “Silent Night.”
“Everyone had been waiting all this time for the Herdmans to do something absolutely unexpected. And sure enough, that is what happened.
“Imogene Herdman was crying” (“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” Barbara Robinson, Harper Trophy®, 1972).
One of the “worst kids in the history of the world” had been touched by the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of Christ.
“The spirit of Christmas illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than things,” said President Thomas S. Monson.
“To catch the real meaning of the ‘spirit of Christmas,’ we need only drop the last syllable, and it becomes the ‘Spirit of Christ.’ …
“If we are to have the very best Christmas ever, we must listen for the sound of sandaled feet. We must reach out for the Carpenter’s hand. With every step we take in His footsteps, we abandon a doubt and gain a truth.
“It was said of Jesus of Nazareth that He ‘increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man’ (Luke 2:52). Do we have the determination to do likewise? One line of holy writ contains a tribute to our Lord and Savior, of whom it was said, He ‘went about doing good … ; for God was with him’ (Acts 10:38).
“My prayer is that at this Christmas season and all the Christmastimes to come, we may follow in His footsteps. Then each Christmas will be the best Christmas ever” (“The Best Christmas Ever,” Liahona, December 2008, pp. 2–6).
President James E. Faust, who served as second counselor in the First Presidency, said a power has influenced the earth for good for more than 2,000 years. “It is the power in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is our Redeemer, our Savior, our Advocate with the Father, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, and the Prince of Peace. It is the power by which, through faith and obedience to His teachings, we can find joy and happiness, peace and comfort” (“The Power of Peace,” Ensign, December 2004, pp. 2–5).
It is perhaps that power that influenced the fictional Imogene Herdman during the Christmas pageant as she held the doll, representing the baby Jesus, and heard the words of the famous Christmas carol:
“Silent night! Holy night! All is calm, all is bright Round yon virgin mother and Child. Holy Infant so tender and mild, Sleep in heavenly peace; Sleep in heavenly peace.
“Silent night! Holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight! Glories stream from heaven afar; Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia! Christ, the Savior is born! Christ, the Savior is born!
“Silent night! Holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light Radiant beams from thy holy face, With the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord at thy birth, Jesus, Lord at thy birth” (Hymns, number 204).
Before the pageant the Herdmans “didn’t know anything about the Christmas story. They knew that Christmas was Jesus’ birthday, but everything else was news to them — the shepherds, the wise men, the star, the stable, the crowded inn. It was hard to believe.”
The pageant — which became known for those who witnessed it in the novel as “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” — gave all the Herdmans reason to ponder the majesty of what happened on that night so long ago in Bethlehem.
This Christmas season, may we all do the same.
“For each of you may this be a merry Christmas,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley more than a decade ago. “But more importantly, I wish for each of you a time, perhaps only an hour, spent in silent meditation and quiet reflection on the wonder and the majesty of this, the Son of God. Our joy at this season is because He came into the world. The peace that comes from Him, His infinite love which each of us may feel, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for that which He freely gave us at so great a cost to Himself — these are of the true essence of Christmas (“The Wondrous and True Story of Christmas,” Ensign, December 2000, p. 2).