Nativity Pageant: The Thompson family Christmas tradition

Susan EspirituFountain City

The Knoxville Nativity Pageant has been part of the city’s Christmas season since 1969, when the first pageant was held outside the Knoxville Civic Auditorium and Coliseum. The pageant has since moved inside the coliseum and is presented as a narrated pantomime drama, given publicly without charge during the Christmas season. Volunteers from the community make up the production with a cast of 150 performers and a choir of 100 voices.

The Thompson family has been involved for over 30 years.

The “Pageant” story for Jim Thompson’s family began in 1989, when Thompson and his wife, Patty, started taking their children, Meridith, then 13, and Adam, then 10. It became an annual event for their family.

Jim says, “The first time I saw the production I knew I wanted to be a part of it, and in 1992 I had an opportunity to join the cast. In my first year I was part of a large group of villagers, but the next year I got the part of the beggar, an incredibly unique and distinctive character that participates in the unfolding story. I have enjoyed playing the beggar for 30 years.” Adam also joined the cast, and both he and Meridith remained active in the pageant until they left home for college.

In 1994, Patty was invited to join the Nativity Pageant board of directors and served one year as president. Patty passed away in December 2004, after a courageous battle with cancer. Meridith has followed in her mother’s footsteps and is on the Nativity board of directors, serving as president this year.

Jim still plays the beggar and his wife, Kathleen, now joins him in the production as a member of the choir. Jim’s children, now grown with children of their own, carry on the family legacy: granddaughter Amelia (13 years old) and grandson Sam (10 years old) are cast members as a villager (mother/daughter pair) and a shepherd, respectively. Son-in-law John Worden is in the cast as a centurion soldier.

The combination of realistic sets, effective lighting, live animals, orchestrated choral music, and realistic costumes produce a powerful and dramatic hour-long presentation of the Christmas story – a story that is eternally the same, but always new. It appeals to audiences of all ages.

While many families will come again and again, making it part of their Christmas tradition, the Thompson family has made Pageant participation an integral part of their family tradition and they remind us why: “Each year we celebrate those who hear the story anew and invite the miracle of Christ into their lives for the first time.”

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