Best Christmas pageant ever

6-25 Page 4A.inddIf you want to recapture the innocent joy of celebrating Christmas, go to the annual Christmas pageant at McKinney Chapel. It’s scheduled to be held Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. inside the historic Methodist church in the Eastatoee Valley.

It’s an experience not be missed. Although the chapel is located in Sunset, just past the gated entrance to The Cliffs on Cleo Chapman Road off S.C. Highway 11, all visitors need to do is tell the guard they’re going to McKinney Chapel, and there’s no problem with driving in.

This small Eastatoee country church is a testimony to the early life of those who settled in the valley. It was built to last by people who had to make anything they needed for survival. The wooden floors have been trod upon by two centuries of worshipers. Each Christmas, McKinney Chapel is the site for a traditional Christmas Nativity Pageant, with angels, shepherds, wise men, the holy family and a narrator.

Children don wings and halos and walk down the aisle with small tennis shoes peeping out from beneath their heavenly garb.

It is a celebration of Christmas that is so heartwarming it brings some visitors to feel they’ve been taken back in time.

Georgia Chapman, a native of the valley, is the moving force behind the pageant. Years ago, Georgia and her husband, Gene, were instrumental in saving McKinney Chapel from deterioration and neglect. Without Georgia’s early efforts to restore and maintain the church, it is possible the building might no longer be in place.

Generations of valley families rest in the small cemetery, and it’s a peaceful place surrounded by natural beauty.

There is now a McKinney Chapel Committee, which offers ecumenical services at the chapel on the fourth Sunday of each month at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., complete with music provided by an excellent choir under the direction of Kirby Colson.

Now a tourist destination, the chapel even has a website with contact information, directions and a listing of events.

The annual Christmas pageant is a tradition linking us all to what is genuine and comforting about Christmas celebrations. It’s not the first of its kind.

Almost 800 years ago in Italy, St. Francis of Assisi created the first recorded living Nativity scene in a cave. He wanted to get away from the materialism associated with this most holy of days and remind people of what it was really about.

Sound familiar? He’d probably look upon the McKinney Chapel pageant with approval, as the spirit of Christmas is alive and well there.

When the Puritans banned Christmas celebrations in the 17th century and even passed a law to outlaw the baking of mincemeat pies shaped like mangers, they missed the point. There was not much joy in the Puritans. Of course they were against joy in all forms and weren’t even allowed to smile.

So, go to the chapel. No puritans allowed. Peace on Earth. Good will to men.