A past Richmond Nativity Pageant (Photo courtesy Paige Quilter)
This year marks the 85th anniversary of the Richmond Nativity Pageant held at Byrd Park. The pageant traces its roots to a small group who sang Christmas carols in the city’s Capitol Square. The first official pageant was held in 1924 on the steps of the Capitol building. The crowds grew so large that the event needed to move to a bigger space, and in 1946 the pageant was moved to the Carillon in Byrd Park, where it has been presented every Christmas since.
During the pageant, the story of Christmas is told through a narrator and a choir of about 200 singers. The original narrator was Pulitzer Prize-winner Douglass Southall Freeman, and his niece, Mallory Freeman, was the first narrator at the Carillon. The current narrator, Allen Freeman, is Mallory Freeman's great-nephew. Many other cast and choir members, and attendees, have been participating in the pageant for generations.
“This is such a strong commitment for these families,” says Paige Quilter, director of the pageant. “Many families will say that it isn’t Christmas if we don’t have the pageant; this is their Christmas.”
The Richmond Nativity Pageant Advisory Committee, a tax-exempt and nonprofit corporate board, sponsors the event. The pageant costs approximately $15,000 each year to produce; donations from businesses, religious organizations and individuals make the tradition possible.
The free show, scheduled this year for Thursday, Dec. 22, at 7 p.m. (Carillon bells at 6:30 p.m.; rain date Dec. 23), is shown outdoors; there is no seating provided, but attendees may bring chairs or stand during the performance.