Holy Family preschoolers bring life to Nativity
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
The teacher told the audience it was in for a treat. And she wasn't kidding.
From the time the lambs, donkey, horse and cows came crawling onto the stage to the tune of "Little Town of Bethlehem," to their final goodbye -- "Thank you, and may God bless you," they said in chorus -- youngsters in Karen Bieker's preschool class for 4-year-olds held the audience's attention as well as any professional actors might have.
Some of the 150-some people crowded into the little theater of Holy Family Elementary School in Hays on Wednesday obviously had seen the preschool presentation before.
Eleven-year-old Logan Olmstead, a sixth-grader at Holy Family, did some of the hand actions in the crowd as he watched his younger brother, Kolby, play a shepherd.
Those who were witnessing it for the first time were mesmerized.
"There are grandparents who come from out of state to see their little ones," said Bieker, in her 10th year at Holy Family. "It has gone over really well."
Where else can you watch archangels, lambs and cows rocking to "Jingle Bells" and belting out "Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus" at the top of their lungs as they perform the Christmas Nativity from the heart.
"I have always thought it's important for the little ones to learn the true meaning of Christmas, that it's Jesus' birthday," said Bieker, who ran a day care in Hays before taking over as the preschool teacher at Holy Family in 2004. "I have been given the greatest gift of being able to work at a Catholic school and able to do just that."
Being able to round up 22 preschoolers and get them dressed in uniforms to perform a concert a week before Christmas is an accomplishment in itself.
"Today, before the (afternoon) program, when we were getting them dressed, I looked around, and the archangels were chasing the kings, and the cows were all over the place," Bieker said with a laugh. "But they settle down pretty quickly. They are excited to perform for their families."
Bieker said she always has had her children learn Christmas songs this time of year but came up with this particular idea one summer when she was looking for materials for the upcoming school year.
"I thought, 'I can just picture my kids entering Bethlehem and singing,' " she said. "So I listened and listened and listened to try to find the music that would be childlike for the children to sing."
She also called on Janice Hageman, then a secretary in the school office and an accomplished seamstress, to sew costumes for her 22 performers.
This year, Bieker added colorful vests for the kings, shepherds, Mary and Joseph, constructed by Hageman with material donated by the family of Hays seamstress Janet Leiker, who died in October.
"Those sure added something, don't you think?" Bieker asked of the costume addition.
Each year, Bieker chooses students for each particular part to match their personality.
"For Mary and Joseph, I chose children who I know are going to participate," she said. "You have to."
However, she added quickly, "Each and every one of those (parts) are important to the play. And I talk to them and make sure they know that."
Mike and Nicki Lind were watching their fourth child participate in the Nativity -- as well as their second and third -- Wednesday.
Holden Lind was one of those archangels, while his triplet brothers Grady and Cade played a shepherd and a lamb, respectively. Their older brother Evan is a second-grader who attended preschool at Holy Family three years ago.
"She does a phenomenal job with these kids," said Jolene Moore, grandmother to the Olmstead children and neighbors to the Lind triplets. "I love watching this."
The middle Olmstead sibling, 9-year-old Morgan, a fourth-grader, was in preschool the second year Bieker started the Nativity performance, so Moore has seen her share of performances.
"It's the same, but yet it's never the same," Bieker said.
For instance, this year she had to be a little more creative than past years when she realized there were only three girls in her afternoon class. That was enough for Mary and two angels, but she usually dresses out at least four angels.
"Those boys didn't want to be in (angel) dresses, so I came up with the idea to get them light sabres and they could be archangels," she said. "They bought into that real quickly.
"Each group is different, not only every year, but each group from morning to afternoon," Bieker added. "What a blessing."