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NASA’s Annual Christmas Shows Brought Joy to Community Children

A family in lobby dressed up in holiday clothes.
Guests arrive for the 1969 Christmas Show. Over two days, 2,000 kids enjoyed a fairy tale stage production, visit with Santa, and gifts from his workshop.

Every December for decades, employees at NASA’s Glenn Research Center staged a Christmas show for their own families and local school children. The events featured live music, costumes, and Santa Claus, but the highlight was always the original Christmas-themed plays. NASA personnel from across the center volunteered each fall to put on the elaborate affairs. 

The events began in 1955 when the laboratory’s social activities committee invited employees to bring their kids to the Administration Building auditorium for refreshments, entertainment, and a visit with Santa. Hosts dressed up in holiday attire and dispensed small gifts. The events drew hundreds of NACA families each year.

The center’s transition to NASA and the introduction of the space program dramatically increased the number of employees. By the mid-1960s, roughly 2,000 children were attending the annual Christmas parties. The larger events moved to the new Development Engineering Building and featured local television personalities. 

In 1965, the advertised guest was delayed, so the costumed hosts improvised a holiday play to occupy the kids in the interim. A new tradition was born.  The employee-written and performed play became the centerpiece for the annual get-togethers. These were highly interactive productions and often included roles for the children. In the mid-1970s the group hired a theater professional to help cast and direct the plays. 

In 1967, the organizers invited 500 second and third grade students from Cleveland-area schools to view an encore performance of the Christmas Show. A second tradition was born. From then on, hundreds of local school kids experienced the center’s holiday festivities each year.

The Christmas Shows, which grew more elaborate over the years, required weeks of after-hours work by a dedicated team of NASA volunteers who sewed costumes, built displays and props, set up lighting, and solved an array of logistical issues. In addition, they also had to write the play, cast roles, and rehearse.

Every fall, nearly 200 volunteers from all levels and areas of the center came together to make the event happen. For over 30 years, chemical rocket test engineer George Repas served as chairman and illustrator Sandra Hines was the set designer. New recruits joined the perennial core group and an extended family developed.

The work was rewarded with the strong comradery, annual wrap-up parties, and, most importantly, the joy on the faces of thousands of young people.

Top Image: NASA Lewis staff members put on a children’s Christmas-themed play in December 1974 in the Development Engineering Building. The annual employee-run plays took place from 1965 to 1997.

Robert S. Arrighi
NASA Glenn Research Center