By Connie and Lynn Baer
One of the most beloved traditions in Grossmont High School’s history is the acclaimed Christmas Pageant, which was presented by Grossmont High School staff and students as an annual gift to the community from 1926-1988.
We have recently completed a 270-page history of the Christmas Pageant. The purpose of the book is to capture the Christmas Pageant through photographs, personal memories, newspaper articles, pageant programs, choir albums, and more. The book is predominately a pictorial history of the Christmas Pageant at GHS from 1926-1988 and includes all of the photographs from the El Recuerdos, Grossmont High School’s yearbooks.
Over its 63-year history, the pageant maintained its excellence due to the years of dedication of hundreds of GHS staff, thousands of students, and, of course, community members whose often anonymous contributions included sewing and mending costumes, painting sets, applying makeup, distributing tickets, and collecting them at the door, directing traffic, decorating the auditorium, and more.
In the 1920s, the early “pageants” were more Christmas programs as directors experimented with various scenes. By the end of the 1950s, the pageant was solidified in its scenes and music.
The first scene was an Old English Christmas, the Feast Scene, complete with lords, ladies, ballerinas, jesters, merrymakers, and more. The second scene, the Madonna Scene, was what many people regard as the most moving, which begins with candle bearers walking toward the stage with closed curtains. As they reach the stage, the curtains fly open to reveal the Madonna, standing motionless for three minutes. The final scenes are the Nativity scenes showing the shepherds and the wise men following the star to the stables to worship Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, while a student reads scripture from the King James Bible and the Red Robe Choir sings various carols. The “Hallelujah Chorus,” sung by the choir, accompanied by the orchestra or an organist, provides a dramatic finish.
The professionalism of the production made it an annual event for the community to circle on their calendars. From its beginnings, the performances were given to packed houses. It was first performed in the auditorium in the north wing of the original school, now known as “The Castle.” Beginning in 1937 until its end in 1988, the Christmas pageants were presented in the auditorium-gymnasium, now known as the Old Gym, which allowed for larger audiences.
Free tickets for each night were issued beforehand to guarantee seats. Due to the pageant’s popularity, the number of performances grew from one to two in the 1930s to three in the 1950s and then four in the 1960s and 1970s, shown to thousands of people each year. Performances began at 8 p.m. except during WWII when they started at 6:30 p.m. to allow everyone time to return home before nighttime blackout rules took effect.
“The Christmas Pageant” was the result of the vision of the early pioneer drama and music teachers: Eva McCarthy Quicksall, Dorothy Cooke Smith, and Merle Donahue, among others. Under their leadership, these early productions inspired students, staff, and the community.
As Dani Barton, 1966-1977 reader coach and 1976 and 1979 director, reflects, “The pageant was said to be GHS’s gift to the community. And that it was: drama students and crews, students cast perhaps for their first drama experience, the orchestra, the choir, to say nothing of faculty directors who coached their differing charges to near perfection, and the overall pageant director who fondly dreamed of an ongoing flow to the drama — no black spots — and no slow curtains! When it succeeded, as it most frequently did, the pageant exemplified the value of collaborative work to produce great art.”
It is our hope that this book, a three-year journey for us, will remind you of the great love the students, staff, and community had for the pageant and how fortunate we all, whether participants or viewers, were to be a part of it.
Reserve your copy of the book, which will be available for mailing and for pickup at GHS in December 2019:
Cost: $20 (plus $10 postage per book for a total of $30)
Payment by check payable to GHS Educational Foundation; mail to: GHS Museum, P.O. Box 1043, La Mesa, CA 91944.
Or to pay with a credit card, use the order button on the Museum Store page at foothillermuseum.com.
To discover more about the Grossmont Christmas Pageant and its other historic performing arts programs from 1920 to today, visit our website at foothillermuseum.com or visit the GHS Museum Wednesday, Dec. 4 or Jan. 8, from noon–3:30 p.m. or by appointment. Contact: 619-668-6140 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Connie and Lynn Baer write on behalf of the Grossmont High School Museum.