The Christmas Pageant is St. Mary’s oldest and one of its most beloved traditions. Although there is no clear documentation of the first Christmas Pageant, the tradition began under the tenure of the Sisters of the Order of St. Mary over 130 years ago. The Pageant has grown and evolved but is timeless in its beautiful and moving sentiment. The current iteration of the Christmas Pageant features seniors, who have attended St. Mary’s for 12 years or more, posed in living tableaux depicting the birth of Christ as 2nd- and 3rd-grade students provide the soundtrack for the program.
By Rainey Ray Segars ’05
Every December, Lynn Hitchings Albano ’77 stands behind the Christmas Pageant box with shepherds, angels, and Josephs. As the 2nd- and 3rd-grade choristers sing angelic tunes, St. Mary’s seniors quietly sing under their breath the familiar carols they once performed. Since their days in St. Mary’s Early Childhood Center, these now-seniors have looked forward to their places in their own Pageant. And now, their day has come, and it is, as always, led by Lynn Albano.
For Albano, the Christmas Pageant is not only St. Mary’s oldest tradition but also a family legacy.
“My history with the Pageant is almost as old as I am,” Albano shared. “My grandmother was Gilmore Lynn (beloved former St. Mary’s teacher and principal), and I can remember being four years old in Junior Kindergarten, helping her with the pageant. I would run down the hall and get things from her office for her. My grandfather built the box we used in the 40s, and I helped her with the Pageant every year, except the years I was singing in it, which was grades 1-6 back then. When my grandmother retired, my mother (Mary Catherine Lynn Hitchings ’47) took it over around 2007. I never really considered any other volunteer roles. It always had to be the Pageant.”
Albano loves that the Pageant is St. Mary’s oldest tradition and that it has continued for close to 130 years.
“We have tried hard over the years not to change it much. We want it to stay very low-tech. Although my biggest worry is always whether or not the curtain will open,” Albano laughed. “One time, it stuck on the first song, ‘The Angel Said Unto Mary,’ and stayed there through the whole song. It didn’t open until the song was over, and when it finally did, Lower School Music Teacher Nancy Miller turned around and said, ‘Well, let’s do that one again!’ Then, they just sang it again. To this day, when things go wrong, we think of Nancy and simply say, ‘Let’s run that one from the top!’”
Albano believes the Christmas Pageant’s consistency and authenticity throughout the years is its main charm. “That’s why people come back year after year because it is the same as it was in 1940 and 1960. Like nothing else, the Pageant links the past and the present. Of course, now there is a larger box and more participants, but we have the same shape, same gold, and the same old-timey curtains we pray will continue to work.”
For Albano, the Pageant is a visual reminder of how, at St. Mary’s, changes come, and yet traditions persist.
This tradition has just been kept alive for so long. In earlier years, a small wooden chapel in St. Mary’s Cathedral was the site for the Pageant. When I go to the Cathedral for a wedding or a funeral, I think of how beautiful the Pageant must have been there. Then it moved to the attic of St. Mary’s Poplar location. It moved to the gym when the church was under construction. Then it persisted amid COVID. I am so proud that we made it happen during COVID, and those girls didn’t miss out on the tradition. The Pageant persists, regardless of the circumstances around it.”
“St. Mary’s has other traditions,” Albano concludes, “but in my biased opinion, this is the best.”
Rainey Ray Segars ’05 is a life-long lover of St. Mary’s. She is the former Director of Alumnae and the current interim Chaplain. Her dearest wish is that her child could go to SMS, but alas, the child is a boy—Gobble, gobble.
175 Years of St. Mary's
This story is part of our 175 Years of St. Mary's series. For 175 years, the mission of St. Mary’s Episcopal School has been to provide a superior educational experience for girls. Our robust academics, Episcopal identity, and rich traditions create an environment where girls flourish as students, athletes, creators, performers, and more. Most importantly, at St. Mary’s, integrity, compassion, and confidence are the norm for our girls. From Chapel to the PE class, alumnae reflect on the experiences and traditions that have made St. Mary’s a special place for girls to learn and thrive for 175 years. Click below to read the other stories in the series.