The littlest angel at the children’s Christmas Eve pageant was all big eyes and few words Sunday as angels, shepherds and wise men bustled all around her, excited and bouncy as they waited to enter the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.

Natalie White, just 2 years old, stood close to her mom, who was gently tying a gold ribbon around Natalie’s waist and making adjustments to her white gown and wings.

“Are you excited to dress up?” Kaitlin White murmured softly to her. “Yes,” Natalie said, clutching a stuffed fox to her chest.

Just minutes later, Natalie and two dozen other children were ready to go – acting out the Nativity story as a narrator read a passage from the Gospel of Luke, second chapter. It’s the same passage that many remember Linus reciting in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” describing Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus in a manger.

“It’s so special,” said Melissa Maurais, who was getting the children organized. “They are all doing great.”

The 900-seat cathedral was packed for the children’s pageant, which immediately preceded the 4 p.m. Mass.

Dozens of people lined the back of the church after all the seats filled, and the adjacent children’s room was filled as well. A half-dozen Christmas trees lit with white lights flanked the altar and Christmas wreaths with bright red ribbons hung from the pillars along the nave.

Before the pageant got underway, Edward Wycoff, 6, explained that this was his second time being a shepherd.

“I was sort of nervous the first time,” he said. This year, he knew just what to do – and the best part about being a shepherd? The staff.

“But you don’t use the staff to hit the sheep,” he said earnestly. “You use it to point to where you want the sheep to go.”

Across the room, one of the three kings was spinning in circles around his mother, Anne Hardcastle, who helps teach Sunday school at the church. Sisters Kaitlyn and Olivia Ha, 7 and 5 years old, respectively, were practicing how to be angels – hands folded in prayer and looking up.

“It is not easy getting up in front of hundreds of people!” the Rev. Kyle L. Doustou said, thanking the children. “But they did it, and they did it so beautifully.”

Doustou continued with the children’s theme in his homily, recalling his own excitement as a child over all the gifts on Christmas Day – and relating it back to the Nativity, which he described as “a gift unlike any other gift.”

“The first Christmas gift was Jesus himself,” Doustou said.

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