The City Magazine Since 1975

Heralding the Holidays

December 2017
Heralding the Holidays
WRITER: 

The charming tradition behind Ashley Hall's 93-year-old Christmas Play

On one evening every December, Charlestonians might glimpse a gaggle of elaborately winged angels, bearded shepherds, and gold-trimmed magi parading from Ashley Hall to the Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul, where a special performance will take place. The scene is no Christmas miracle, though it is a sign that a sacred tradition is underway. Ashley Hall’s Christmas Play (pictured here in 1958) has been put on by female students since founding Head of School Mary Vardrine McBee directed the first production in 1924, 15 years after the institution was established in 1909. Derived from the medieval Mystery Play Cycle of Chester, England (a series of scriptural plays dating back to the 14th century), the show retells the nativity story with accompanying carols sung by the school’s vocal ensemble, the Red Choir. For Ashley Hall girls, the performance is a highly anticipated ritual—senior students, cast as the choir of angels, are known to shed a tear or two when donning their hard-earned wings. Now in its 93rd year, the production has been passed down for generations, with the long list of participants including alumni such as former First Lady Barbara Bush (class of 1943) and A Wrinkle in Time author Madeleine L’Engle (class of 1936). 

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Photograph courtesy of Ashley Hall