Spies, Shepherds, and Starry Nights: Christmas Musicals for Children's Choir

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We've all seen it: Children dressed in sheets with rope belts and felt beards, carrying shepherds' crooks and reciting the oh-so-familiar lines of the nativity story.

The Angel Gabriel, with a halo made of twinkly lights and holding a cardboard star wrapped in tin foil shares the good news.

Mary and Joseph enter as everyone sings "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and let's not forget the darling 3-year-olds dressed like lambs with felt-ear headbands and cotton-ball-covered shirts.

There's no denying it - children's Christmas programs are pretty adorable.

There are dozens of children's Christmas musicals out there, with topics ranging from the Wild West to outer space to the 1950s, most with some sort of modern spin on the original Christmas story. 

Some include production notes with ideas for set design, staging, and costumes. Others can be put together in less time with just a small group of children. Many include familiar carols of the season along with original music.

Looking for a Christmas musical for your children's choir? Whatever you choose, make sure you like the music - that it's singable, in a good range, and has meaningful text - and that the story line supports the biblical story of Christmas and reinforces Scriptural truths.

I did a little searching to see what I could turn up this year - here are a few Christmas musicals you might consider:

Christmas Musicals for Children's Choir

1. We Three Spies (2013)
Christy Semsen & Daniel Semsen

A top-secret mission to bring Christmas cheer to one and all! (33 minutes)

2. Carriers of the Light (1997)
Jean Anne Shaffermann & Anna Laura Page

Based on the theme of "light," this musical is a sweet retelling of the nativity story, featuring traditional carols and original music. (20 minutes)

3. In a Galilee Far, Far Away (2012)
David Guthrie, Rob Howard & Steve Moore

An outer-space quest to find the glory of God, with "ultra-hip" music your choir will love. (45 minutes)

4. The Light Before Christmas (2013)
Joseph M. Martin

One of my favorite finds, this musical is based on Advent and the themes of hope, peace, joy and love. The carols and songs can be presented as a set with narration or individually in services throughout the Advent season. (25 minutes)

5. Light of the World (2002)
Mark Patterson

Another traditional musical, this one includes narration, drama, familiar carols, and new songs. The story begins with creation, then the prophesies, and ends with Jesus' birth. (30-40 minutes)

6. On Our Way to Bethlehem (2006)
John Jacobson & Roger Emerson

Great for smaller churches looking for something that works well with children of all ages. Features simple songs and rhyming dialogue in the retelling of the Christmas story. (25 minutes)

7. Starry Night, Noisy Night (2009)
Ruth Elaine Schram & Schott Schram

A clever, modern-ish retelling of the Christmas story, as told by the animals. (20 minutes)

8. Room for Christmas (2014)
Mark Burrows

In the midst of the chaos of trying to prepare this year's Christmas pageant, a group of children learn the true joy of the season by making room for what really matters. (30 minutes)

See Christmas musicals specifically geared toward young children here.

Make Your Own Musical

Of course, another alternative is to create your own musical by adding songs, carols, and instrumental music to a spoken Christmas play.

I've done this a few times and it's worked really well. It can be as simple or complex as you'd like and truly tailored to your church and the resources you have available.

One year, I chose familiar carols and Christmas songs and formed a "Christmas choir" with the children of the church. We rehearsed on Sunday afternoons for a few weeks leading up to the big day and even included a few duets and trios to mix it up. The congregation loved it!

Another year, I incorporated a few congregational carols throughout the play and added in short instrumental passages and musical cues that tied into the dialogue or helped transition between scenes.

I pulled from piano arrangements I had on hand - "Silent Night" (arr. Rouse), "O Little Town of Bethlehem" (arr. Hayes), "Listen to Christmas" (Hayes), and "While By Their Sheep" (arr. Bock) - and created my own effects to imitate key moments in the script (e.g. "a bright star appeared" = high C octave tremolo or knocking on the side of the piano when Mary and Joseph arrive at the inn).

This was a very simple way to add to a play that included only spoken dialogue - we were able to put it together (dialogue/acting + music) in just one rehearsal.

Looking for a place to start? There are tons of free resources out there. Here are a few Christmas plays that stood out to me:

Free Christmas Plays

1. 12 Symbols of Christmas
While decorating their Christmas tree, a family begins talking about the significance of the symbols of the season. Includes Scriptural references woven throughout the narrative and parts for six characters.

2. A Christmas Nativity Play for Children
A traditional retelling of the Christmas Story from Luke 2, featuring 12 characters and an angel choir. (30 minutes)

3. A Child Shall Lead Them
Set in a museum, children explore the work of Rembrandt and the story of Christmas. 12+ characters, including a few adults. (15 minutes)

4. Christmas Pageant
A traditional Christmas Story narrative, divided into 17 parts (could be done with fewer), this play includes seven congregational hymns and staging directions.

5. No Stress, No Fuss Christmas Pageant & Worship
This was one of my favorite finds - I love the rhyming dialogue! There's lots of flexibility with this script, too - you could divide it all sorts of ways to accommodate the children in your group who would like to be readers. It even includes props and staging suggestions!

6. An Intergenerational Christmas Pageant
This script features simple rhyming dialogue and song suggestions. The pageant is organized into scenes, with children and adults from the congregation coming forward at various points and dressing up to play the characters as they are mentioned.

See more plays here.

Do you do a Christmas play or musical with your children each year? Have you ever created your own?

Read more:
Top 50 Favorite Anthems for Children's Choir
Eight Festive Advent Calendars
How to Write Your Own Christmas Program
Using American Sign Language in Children's Choir