Christmas comes early

Facade of HIJ Convent Johor Baru
I was arranging to meet A. Oliveiro to return some old photos but her text reply read: “In school today, 11.30am Christmas play.”  It’s October 22, way too early for Christmas.  So, I guessed she was there for rehearsals.

But when I saw the hall jam-packed with girls wearing T-shirts with the words “Christmas Concert 2008”, I realised that the Johor Baru Convent School’s annual Christmas pageant was on.

I paused at the door and watched the girls sing together with a live band playing piano, drums and electric guitars. The lyrics and graphics were projected onto a screen by a LCD projector.  As I was musing on how things had changed with advancements in technology, I was ushered to a place close to the front and was suddenly surrounded by singing school girls.  I saw Oliveiro a row ahead but as there was no opportunity to speak to her, I sat back to enjoy the show.

Elegant ballet dancers performed
There were performances by secondary school students, primary school girls and girls from a school for special children. I could not help but smile as all the male roles were performed by girls dressed up as boys.

There was a violin recital, a mime which made clever use of signs and a medley of Christmas carols by the award-winning JB Convent Choir. 

The energetic youngsters were giving performances of hip-hop dance and jazz ballet which were unheard of when I was a student at the school.  In our time, there were only cultural dances. The few modern dances we had were “illicit” items slotted in to shock our conservative teachers.

As the classical ballet dancers wowed the audience with their grace and elegance, my mind was flooded with memories of the 1971 operetta The Magic Belt, a major production staged in this very same hall.

A ballerina had danced solo in the opening scene of this performance. One of the shows was even graced by members of the Johor royal family who were invited as guests of honour.  I can still remember the props and the characters.  There was a king, a beautiful princess, fairies and gnomes. I played one of the naughty gnomes.

Nativity scene in JB Convent's annual Christmas pageant
JB Convent’s Christmas pageant is an annual year-end event and during my time, a charity was identified to be presented with gift hampers.  A nativity play would be staged and each class would troop behind the Three Wise Men to present their decorated hamper.

The hampers were then given to the charity.  I remember how I used to bring a bar of Lux soap or a tin of Milkmaid condensed milk to help make up that hamper from our class.  Each class would select representatives to dress in a particular theme and walk up to the stage with the hamper.  They would be acting or dancing, accompanied by singing and music.  It looks like a short walk now but when I was younger, it seemed a lot longer.

"Togetherness" was the theme presented by
Form 5 Science in 1974
The format of the Christmas pageant has changed and the roles are played by a different generation of students.  But it’s pretty similar to what I remember in the old days.  The event always ended with a nativity play with shepherds and sheep.

“Did it bring back some memories?” I read Oliveiro’s lips above the din of deafening squeals and singing from hundreds of screaming girls after the grand finale.  It certainly did. It looks like the school’s Christmas pageant, a proud heritage of the 83-year old Johor Baru Convent, is absolutely here to stay.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Buzz on 30 October 2008

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