Thursday, December 16, 2010

An Authentic Christmas

A play in three scenes for an LDS audience.  Overzealous about her Christmas decorating scheme this year, Julie is forgetting the reason for the season.  Can an unexpected visitor help her refocus before it is too late?
Free for non-commercial performance.
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Julie Jones
Cub Scouts 1 and 2
Rhonda, Julie’s Visiting Teaching companion
Katelyn, Julie’s teen daughter
Rachel, Julie’s younger daughter
Mike, Julie’s teen son
Sarah, Julie’s great-great-great-grandmother (in pioneer garb, with a simple gold ring on her hand)

Scene I: Christmas Eve. A living room, overcrowded with rustic Christmas decor and parcels wrapped in plain brown paper. A Christmas tree with candles, two chairs, footstool, and an ancestral portrait over the mantle. Interior and exterior doors, on opposite sides of the stage.

Julie: (Bustles in, stirring something in a bowl, singing) ‘I’m dreaming of a Nauvoo Christmas, just like Great-Grandma used to know...’

Knocking. Julie answers the door. Two Cub Scouts carry grocery bags.

Cub Scout 1: Hello, Sister Jones. We’re here to collect for the food drive.

Julie: The food drive! I knew I had forgotten something. I’m afraid I didn’t buy anything for you. Could you come back next week?

Cub Scout 2: It’s Christmas Eve, and we’re delivering the food tonight. Don’t you have a few cans to spare?

Julie: No, I’m sorry. I’m already cooking what I have for my family, and I’ve gone over my budget. Maybe next year. (She closes the door.) Oops! I’d better shape those rolls. (Exit)

Knocking. More knocking. Julie enters, answers the door.

Julie: Hi, Rhonda! Come in!

Rhonda: Are you all right? You haven’t been answering your phone.

Julie: Oh, I just turned it off so I could concentrate on getting ready for Christmas.

Rhonda: Christmas? This looks more like Pioneer Day.

Julie: We’re having a pioneer Christmas this year. See? The gifts were all handcrafted by local artisans, we’ll be using the fireplace instead of the heater, I’m trying recipes from the Lion House cookbook, and –

Rhonda: Why?

Julie: (Enthusiastic) I’ve been taking the Family History Class, and I learned that my great-great-great-grandparents lived in Nauvoo. I thought that an authentic pioneer Christmas would be a great way to get to know them. (More subdued) And with Bill at sea, I wanted the kids to be able to remember something special, not just that their dad was gone again. Keeping busy helps me cope, too.

Rhonda: I can see you’ve been working hard. But can you take a little break? The Relief Society president asked us to go check on the Mendez family.

Julie: Who?

Rhonda: They just moved to this area. Brother Mendez had a job offer here, but by the time they arrived, the company had gone out of business. So they are staying in a motel, with nowhere else to go.

Julie: Oh, that’s awful! But why did she ask us?

Rhonda: The Mendez children are about the same ages as yours, and she knew I could get a hold of you.

Julie: Well, I can’t go now. I have rolls in the oven, and the kids are out doing some errands. And later – I still have so much to do to make our Christmas perfect. Sorry, Rhonda. (Casually) Let me know if they need anything.

Rhonda: Will you be turning your phone on?

Julie: There were no phones in Nauvoo. It wouldn’t be authentic.

Rhonda: Well, have a happy Pioneer Day, I mean Christmas. (Exits)

Julie: (hanging two hand-knit stockings, singing) ‘Over the river, and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go.’

(Door opens. Katelyn and Rachel enter, carrying pioneer costumes.)

Julie: Welcome back, girls! What took you so long?

Katelyn: The Andersons had to dig through their attic to find these costumes. Most people don’t keep pioneer outfits close at hand at Christmas time.

Rachel: (Holds out dress, looking critical) Do we really have to wear these tomorrow?

Julie: That’s how your Great-great-great-great Grandmother dressed every day, Rachel. If we’re going to have an authentic Nauvoo Christmas, we need to dress the part.

(Door opens. Mike stomps in with bow and arrows, looking discouraged)

Mike: Sorry, Mom. No venison on the menu tomorrow.

Julie: But the neighbors complain about deer wandering through their yard all the time.

Mike: The deer left no trace today. They must have heard me coming.

Katelyn: Or smelled you.

Mike: No one used deodorant in Nauvoo, right? Anyway, I only saw squirrels out there.

Rachel: Eww! I don’t want to eat a squirrel!

Mike: Don’t worry. They were too fast for me.

Julie: Are you giving up? The pioneers had to hunt for their food until they found it.

Katelyn: Um, wasn’t there a butcher shop in Nauvoo?

Julie: (sighs) I suppose you’re right. But it’s too late to go to the store now. I’ll see if we have a roast in the freezer. (Exits)

Rachel: Wow. That’s a lot of presents. Are they all for us?

Katelyn: Yes, and not an I-Pod-shaped one among them.

Rachel: Maybe Santa will bring you one.

Mike: I don’t think Santa delivered to Nauvoo.

Rachel: (horrified) He didn’t? Mom! (Exits)

Mike: Do you think Mom’s going overboard with her authenticity?

Katelyn: A bit. It feels like an antique store in here, not home. Let’s turn on some music.

(Katelyn finds the CD player behind some decorations. Music swells: Joy to the World. Julie and Rachel enter. Julie has a pumpkin under her arm.)

Julie: There were no CD players in Nauvoo, young lady. Turn it off, please.

(Katelyn obeys. Music off.)

Katelyn: But Mom, we need some Christmas spirit in here.

Julie: Just come and eat.

Rachel: Are we going caroling after dinner?

Julie: I still need to cook this pumpkin and make a pie out of it.

Katelyn: Will we be acting out the Christmas story tonight?

Mike: I’m sure I can handle all the men’s parts.

Julie: I haven’t finished knitting the last stocking. Sorry, kids, we don’t have time. (Exits)

Rachel: No time for the best parts of Christmas Eve? (Children shrug, and follow Julie off.)

Scene II: After dinner. Julie and Children enter. Julie consults a long list.

Julie: Off to bed with you! We’ll be up with the rooster!

Rachel: We don’t have a rooster.

Katelyn: I wouldn’t count on that.

Mike: Shouldn’t we have family prayer? Dad told me to make sure we did.

Julie: (Not listening, digging through decor) Have you seen my knitting? I know it was right here.

Katelyn: Come on, Mike. We’ll pray for Mom upstairs. (Children exit)

Julie: Here it is. Oh, I have a long way to go. At least I can put my feet up while I knit. (Settles in chair, knits stocking. Soft music: Silent Night. Julie nods off.)

Sarah: (Enters through front door, looks around curiously. Examines ancestral portrait.) Gracious, is that me? I never did consider it to be a good likeness.

Julie: (Wakes up, startled) Who . . . Great-great-great-grandma Sarah?

Sarah: Why, yes, dear.

Julie: (Stands) I was thinking of you as our guest of honor this Christmas, but I didn’t expect you to actually come! This is wonderful! Tell me, did I get it right? Does this look like Christmas in Nauvoo?

Sarah: Are you the postmistress? It looks like you are waiting for your customers to retrieve their parcels.

Julie: These? No, these are just gifts for the family.

Sarah: You must have quite a large family.

Julie: Only the three children – my husband is away. I didn’t want them to feel lonely. I guess I got a little carried away.

Sarah: Perhaps. And why, pray tell, have you attached candles to your firewood?

Julie: It’s a Christmas tree. We usually use electric lights, of course, but you would not have had those in Nauvoo.

Sarah: We had nothing of the sort, but kept our candles well removed from our kindling. Did you dampen your stockings outside?

Julie: No, they are . . . Perhaps you should tell me what you remember of Christmas. (Both sit in chairs)

Sarah: I believe the best Christmas day I ever spent was in 1837, when my Ezra and I were wed. (Strokes her ring)

Julie: And he gave you that ring for a Christmas gift? How romantic!

Sarah: No, the ring came . . . later. But that was a very pleasant day, spent quietly with our families and neighbors. He was such a fine young man, and I was so happy to join my life with his.

Julie: You were married in New York, right? When did you move to Nauvoo?

Sarah: Some years later, after we had been blessed with two little girls, we heard that the Mormons were coming to preach in our neighborhood. I had heard of the Golden Bible as a girl, and I was most curious to hear what these men had to say. I could find no fault with their doctrine, nor could Ezra. In the following months, my younger child took ill, and I watched over her with fond anxiety. Two elders visited our home that summer, and we learned more of their faith. Soon my husband desired to be baptized. I remained at home with our sick infant, but prayed for strength to accept the truth of the gospel as well. After his baptism, Ezra asked the elders to administer to our little one. She was not to be healed; Heavenly Father had decreed otherwise. Yet my sorrow was mingled with joy and wonder. I had witnessed the power of God manifest through his ordinances, and I could not deny it. Our darling babe having departed, we began to long for the society of the saints, and to hear the Prophet’s voice with our own ears. We settled our affairs in New York, bid adieu to our kin and that little grave, and removed to Nauvoo.

Julie: Did you arrive in time for Christmas?

Sarah: We arrived early in the winter, after a tedious journey, and set ourselves to acquiring life’s necessities. We had few worldly goods, but we feasted on the words of our Savior. Have you a copy of the Book of Mormon? Do you savor it as I did?

Julie: Several. But I haven’t been reading it very regularly. I’ve been so caught up in these preparations. And now I need to catch up on this knitting.

Sarah: Ah, knitting was nearly the only work of which I was capable our next Christmas in Nauvoo.

Julie: Why?

Sarah: As we struggled to establish a farm in a new settlement that summer, our whole family was stricken with a grievous fever. We tried to care for each other, but we could do little. When our new baby died of the fever, not one of us had the strength to attend his burial. We depended upon the kindness of our friends. While Ezra and our daughter began to improve, I continued to weaken, and our neighbors believed my own passing was near. But Ezra’s sister, Margaret, took me in, and nursed me with her own limited means. With her compassion, and the faith and prayers of the saints, I began to revive as well. December found me still recovering in her home in Nauvoo. I remember, early in the morning on the 25th, waking to hear voices singing. (Sings) ‘Mortals, awake, with angels join, And chant the solemn lay’ . . . (Speaks) I feared that my feverish delirium had returned, yet I had no desire for the angelic song to cease. Later I learned that a Sister Rushton, from England, had led some of her children and friends in singing hymns of joy in the street. She could not leave her love for Christ unexpressed.

Julie: What Christmas activities did you enjoy?

Sarah: After the children returned from school –

Julie: They went to school on Christmas day?

Sarah: Yes, dear. Margaret cooked a dinner with some favorite herbs she had been saving. Her husband purchased a few sweets from the Red Brick Store and gave them to the children, and Ezra played jolly airs on his fife. It was a merry evening.

Julie: What about decorations? Gifts?

Sarah: I was most grateful for the gift of my life, and for my Savior who redeemed me. The gospel was a most precious gift that I pondered daily. I had God’s word in the scriptures, and I could hear a true prophet speak. I could not be insensitive to such great blessings.

Julie: You’re right. The best gifts don’t need to be wrapped.

Sarah: The next summer, of course, dear Brother Joseph was martyred. We shed bitter tears, but knew that God’s work would triumph. We remained, despite poverty and persecution, to aid those who labored so diligently to build the temple. In the winter of 1845, Ezra and I were among those who received the Lord’s endowment within his holy temple. No more precious gift could I have asked. Have you been privileged to worship within the house of the Lord?

Julie: Yes, there is a temple not far away. But I haven’t been since Bill went to sea.

Sarah: I needed the strength of my testimony and the blessings of the temple to sustain me through the difficult years to come. We spent the next spring preparing to leave Nauvoo, the temple, all we had worked for. We gathered our wagons and our two little ones and crossed the river to escape persecution. While we stayed at Council Bluffs, the call came for men to serve in the Army of the United States, to assist in the Mexican War. Ezra followed the patriotic example of our brave grandfathers, and volunteered immediately. He arranged for our provision, and departed to do his duty with the Mormon Battalion. Sadly, his arrangement fell through, and we were left in the Lord’s hands. The Lord did provide, through the hands of his saints. The next two winters were harsh and lonesome, but I had faith, hope, and charity to bear me up. And then the bad news came.

Julie: Was he killed in combat?

Sarah: No, Ezra was discharged with the rest of the company in late summer of 1847. Heeding the counsel of President Young, he stayed in California to work for the winter. He found employment building a lumber mill for a Mr. Sutter. I understand that it was a hard decision for some of the men, choosing whether to return to their families in the spring, or to stay and search for gold in that rich country. But Ezra was so eager to return that he volunteered to scout a route through the perilous, snow-covered mountains.

Julie: How sweet!

Sarah: His scouting party never returned. The remainder of the company found their bodies some time later. They had been attacked at night. Their possessions were stolen, save for one item that must have fallen unnoticed. After waiting so long, all I received of my beloved husband was a pouch of gold dust.

Julie: No!

Sarah: At first I felt overwhelmed. What could I do but trust in God? My family in New York wrote and offered to provide for me if I renounced my religion, but I could not do that. I knew the gospel was true, and that the Lord would bless me if I proved faithful. I did my best to care for my little ones and teach them the truth. When the time was right, I exchanged my husband’s gold for the necessities of westward travel, saving only enough to make this ring. We traveled in the company of the saints to the Salt Lake Valley. Once there, we were welcomed and supported by friends.

Julie: What terrible trials! (Getting sleepy again) How did you survive?

Sarah: Through my faith in Jesus Christ, whose birth you are celebrating. He provided the scriptures and the blessings of the temple to guide me, and inspired the saints to follow his example of loving kindness. Go thou, and do likewise.

(Julie falls asleep. Sarah quietly exits.)

Scene III: Christmas morning. Music: Mortals, Awake

Julie:  (Still in her chair, wakes up, startled.) Grandma Sarah?

(Julie rubs her eyes, stands and stretches. Gently removes ancestral portrait and replaces it with picture of Christ. Places scriptures and picture of temple in sight as well. Exits, then returns with Children. All kneel in silent family prayer.)

Julie: (Standing) I learned some things about Christmas in Nauvoo last night.

Katelyn: (Warily) Like what?

Julie: Children still went to school on December 25th.

Rachel: No!

Mike: We don’t have to be that authentic, do we?

Julie: No, of course not. I think we should focus on the things that were really important to our ancestors. Faith in Jesus Christ. The scriptures. The temple. Gratitude for what they had, and willingness to help others. I’m sorry for getting caught up in outward appearances and forgetting about the Savior.

(Group hug.)

Julie: I’ve heard that there’s a new family in the ward, living in a motel with no income. Shall we share some of our gifts with them and invite them to dinner? With their help, it would be even easier to act out the story of Christ’s birth. What do you think?

Rachel: I think that is exactly what Jesus would do.

Katelyn: Dad would like it, too.

Mike: Should I go hunt some more squirrels?

(All laugh, pick up most of the gifts, and exit through the front door. Curtain.)

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"A Prophet Remembers Christmas." Friend Dec. 1980: 47. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Benzley, Caroline H. “Christmas With Joseph Smith.” New Era, Dec. 2001: 9. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Cardon Art Gallery. Portrait of Sarah B. Fiske. Photograph. 1890.   Matt & Janet Young Family Home Page,

"Christmas." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.

"Christmas History in America." Christmas History.

Handel, George F. and Samuel Medley. “Mortals, Awake, With Angels Join.” A Collection of Dorset Carols. Ed. W. A. Pickard-Cambridge. London: A. W. Ridley & Co., 1926. Hymns and Carols of Christmas.

Leonard, Glen M. "Nauvoo." Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Macmillan, 1992. World Religion and Family Resources.

Ricketts, Norma B. "The Pouch and It’s Circle of Gold." Mr Mother.

"Sarah Beriah Fiske Allen Ricks." Our Pioneer Heritage. Comp. Kate B. Carter. Vol. 11. Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1968. 135-43. Matt & Janet Young Family Home Page.

Thackeray, Helen. Lion House Recipes. Deseret Book, 1984.


  1. I used this play with my Young Women tonight at our Branch Christmas Social. We invited the one Young Man in our branch to join us to be Mike. It went really well. It helped remind all presence of the real reason for the season. Thank you for all your time and effort at putting this together.

  2. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Carolyn! Thanks!

  3. i like this lds website...its so helpful to our seminary kids