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Two adults dressed as Mary and Joseph for a Christmas program.
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7 mins

Christmas Program: Once Upon a Christmas

Use this Christmas program: Once Upon a Christmas for a free family production to celebrate Christmas this year.


With weeks of rehearsals, complex set designs, and elaborate costumes, the traditional Christmas pageant isn’t for everyone. So at this busy time of year, try doing something different to involve entire families in a one-night, rehearsed Christmas production — with an important role for every participant.

Step-by-Step Easy Prep for Your Christmas Program

Nothing’s easier than an entire production done in one night, but you’ll need to prepare well to pull it off. Follow these steps.

Starring Roles

Recruit four dramatic people who can play the lead roles: Mary, Joseph, an angel, and a shepherd. Gather simple costumes for these actors.

Supporting Cast

You’ll need helpers in each room, so plan according to the number of people you’re expecting. Also recruit volunteers as greeters, guides to take families to rooms, musicians if necessary, tech support, and snack-reception helpers.

Room by Room

You’ll need three rooms with table space for ornament making. Families will meet here to make their ornaments and to learn their cues for the production.

Tickets, Please

For planning purposes, ask families to pick up free tickets to your one-night production so you can have enough supplies and food on hand.

Opening Night

Schedule your production at a time that’s complementary to younger children’s schedules, such as Saturday morning or early evening. When families arrive, have greeters give each family a sticker for the room they’ll go to, such as stars for the “It’s a Boy!” room, angels for the “A Heavenly Announcement” room, and sheep for the “Follow That Star” room. Simply distribute one-third of the families to each room.

Scene by Scene

Once families arrive in their designated rooms, give them approximately 30 minutes to learn their songs and story cues and create their ornaments.

The Show Must Go On!

When families finish in their designated rooms, have them all gather in your sanctuary or a large meeting area. Play Christmas music as families travel into this area. Then introduce the evening and the three accounts everyone will present of Jesus’ birth. Invite each actor on stage and any families who’d like to join the actor to help tell their story. Encourage all families to participate in the story’s motions and the accompanying song.

After the Show

Invite families to your fellowship hall for a reception. Recruit a photographer to take pictures of each participating family and use the photos as a follow-up tool. After your event, email or post the photos on your church Web site for families to have a keepsake from the evening.

Christmas Program Room 1: It’s a Boy!

After a long journey to Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph experienced indescribable joy as they held the newborn Jesus in their arms. Families in this room will create a nativity ornament, practice “Silent Night,” and prepare their part of the story about the special night Jesus was born.

Christmas Nativity Ornament

You’ll need:

Each person will also need:

  • five cinnamon sticks,
  • 6 inches of ribbon, and
  • a small wooden or cardboard star.

Paint a small wooden star with yellow paint and sprinkle glitter over the wet paint. Glue five cinnamon sticks into the shape of a house. As the glue and paint dry, cut out the nativity scene and glue it to the dried cinnamon-stick stable.

Glue potpourri onto the sides of the stable for a rustic look-and nice smell. Then glue the star to the top of the stable. Insert a 6-inch piece of ribbon through the top of the stable. Tie the ribbon in a knot for hanging the nativity ornament.

A Special Night

Mary and Joseph can practice this interactive story with families. Encourage families to join Mary and Joseph on stage to help lead the audience in the actions in parentheses.

Joseph: Mary and I made a long journey to Bethlehem to be counted for the census (count on their fingers).

Mary: I was so tired and anxious to arrive in Bethlehem (females only say, “Are we there yet?”).

Joseph: I knew Mary was tired and the time was nearing for baby Jesus to be born. I needed to find a place for us to stay, so I knocked on the door of a hotel (males motion a knocking gesture). I asked the innkeeper, “Do you have any room?” But the man shook his head (shake their heads, no). So I went to another hotel and knocked (all the males knock). I asked again if we could stay the night and again the answer was (everyone says, “No”).

Mary: I told Joseph I’d be happy just to have a place to lie down. One of the innkeepers was kind enough to offer us some room in his stable. So there among the cows (everyone “moos”), sheep (everyone “baas”), and donkeys (everyone “whinnies”), baby Jesus was born (everyone says, “ahhhh”).

Joseph: Mary wrapped Jesus in warm clothes and laid him in a manger (all females pantomime wrapping a baby and laying him down). Later that night we had visitors arrive to see the most special baby in the world (everyone says, “ahhhh”).

Mary: Joseph and I knew God had given us a special gift that night, and we made a promise to be the best parents to baby Jesus (everyone rocks a baby to sleep).

Joseph: Let’s sing “Silent Night” to remember the special night Jesus was born.

(Lead everyone in singing “Silent Night.”)

Christmas Program Room 2: A Heavenly Announcement

A band of angels joined together to make one of the most important announcements ever proclaimed-the Savior of the world was born! Families in this room will make angel ornaments, practice “Angels We Have Heard On High,” and prepare their part of the story about the good news the angels delivered on that glorious night.

Chenille Angels

You’ll need:

  • ¼ length of one gold metallic chenille wire,
  • ½ length of one white chenille wire,
  • two bumps from one chenille craft bump stem (any color), and
  • one large craft bead.

Fold the gold and white chenille wires in half, then interlock the two. Push the white chenille wire through the bead until the interlocked area is hidden. Push the ends of the white chenille wire back into the bead to form wings. Form a halo with the gold chenille wire. Fold the bump stem in half and push the folded end into the bottom of the bead. Form the angel’s body by folding the ends of the bump stem together.

Sound the Trumpets

The angel can practice this interactive story with families. Encourage families to join the angel on stage to help lead the audience in the announcement the angels made the night Jesus was born.

Angel: My friends and I had been waiting patiently for the cue to give the big announcement, you know, the one that would change the world forever (tap their feet)! I’ll never forget when I heard that trumpet sound (imitate trumpet playing) to signal us it was time to begin. We filled the sky-(show their best angel pose). We filled the sky with a bright light and startled the shepherds who were sleeping down below.

I was privileged to be the angel who announced the good news. It went something like this: “Good news I bring to you (repeat), news that will fill you with joy (repeat). In Bethlehem town, in a dark cattle shed (repeat), is born a brand-new baby boy (repeat and pretend to hold a baby). This child is the Christ, the Savior of all (repeat). He’ll be in a warm bed, wrapped in soft clothes (repeat), this baby so small, with straw to pillow his head (repeat).”

Then the entire sky filled with angels (make star bursts with fingers) singing God’s glory and praise. Let’s sing “Angels We Have Heard On High” to remember the wonderful news the angels announced that first Christmas.

(Lead everyone in singing “Angels We Have Heard On High.”)

Wake Up Shepherds

Shepherd: Wow! Did I have a crazy, unbelievable night! Can I tell you about it? My line of work isn’t that eventful-I keep an eye (hold hand to eyes as though looking in the distance) on our family’s sheep herd morning, noon, and night. Last night was pretty low-key, so I decided to grab a little shut-eye (demonstrate closing your eyes, laying your head on your hands).

Suddenly, the brightest light I’ve ever seen woke me from my slumber (make a “surprise” facial expression). Yep, that’s exactly how I felt. My shepherd friends all awoke and together we watched this magnificent band of heavenly angels singing (look up) as they delivered the amazing news that a baby, the Savior of the world, had been born. The angels told us he was wrapped in cloth and sleeping in a manger. Then “POOF!” (show a starburst motion with their hands), the angels were gone.

Well, we knew we needed to see this baby, so the other shepherds and I followed a bright star to Bethlehem (pump arms as though you’re running). And, sure enough, there in a manger bed lay Jesus, sweet and mild (say “ahhh”). My friends and I fell down and worshipped the newborn king (bow and fold hands).

What a night! I’m so excited I was one of the first people to see baby Jesus. His birth changed the world forever. What a joy-filled night…Let’s sing “Joy to the World” in celebration of God’s gift to the world-Jesus.

(Lead everyone in singing “Joy to the World.”)

Christmas Program Room 3: Follow That Star

What a surprise the shepherds had the night Jesus was born! In this room, families make a star ornament, practice “Joy to the World,” and hear about the event that woke the shepherds and spurred a journey to follow a star to the birthplace of the newborn king.

Shiny Christmas Stars

You’ll need:

  • Cardboard,
  • pens,
  • scissors,
  • yellow felt,
  • glitter glue, and
  • candy canes.

Trace the star pattern onto cardboard. For a star pattern, click here.

Trace the cardboard patterns onto yellow felt and cut out the stars. Fold the long piece along the dotted lines, and cut along the dotted lines. Weave the shorter piece through the slits in the long piece. Use glitter glue to decorate your star. Then lay your star flat to dry. Once your star is dry, stick a candy cane through its back.

After singing “Joy to the World,” remind families of your church’s Christmas Eve services and invite everyone to stay for a reception honoring Jesus’ birthday. You can serve a birthday cake for Jesus, have families each bring a plate of cookies, or stage a cookie swap. Relax and enjoy the success of a great Christmas program where everyone played a part and learned about the real Christmas Star-Jesus. cm

Sue Lennartson is a small groups pastor, author, speaker, and vocalist in Stillwater, Minnesota.

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Christmas Program: Once Upon a Christmas

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