Elle Lash, director of the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury Christmas pageant, was trying to corral many of the 47 kids (48 if you count the four-month old in the role of the baby Jesus) into their places on stage at the final pageant rehearsal this week. Pageant producer Libby Fielder said the process was akin to herding cats.

“If you are an angel, walk down the stairs, just angels,” said Ms. Lash. “If you are a shepherd, please come down the stairs and go out in the hall. If you are a beautiful camel, please step over here.”

For as long as most anybody can remember the church pageant has been a staple of Christmas on Martha’s Vineyard, when families take a moment from the holiday hustle and bustle to reflect on the bible story depicting the birth of Jesus.

Stela Duncheva is ready; are you? — Alison L. Mead

This year’s pageant begins at 5 p.m. at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Hall, on Christmas Eve.

“It isn’t scripture, it’s an expansion of the Christmas story,” said Ms. Fielder, who is also the church school director at the First Congregational Church. “It’s a little more kid friendly. They’re little kids. It’s kind of a Charlie Brown Christmas pageant. It’s very sweet and yet it’s kind of solemn at the same time, The kids take this seriously. They take their responsibility at communicating the story to everybody. People from all over the Island come to act in the pageant. We have kids who never go to church and learn about the Christmas story by acting in the pageant.”

First Congregational minister Rev. Cathlin Baker said the church enjoys presenting the pageant as a way to draw the Island community together at this time of year.

“We consider this our Christmas gift to the Island community,” Reverend Baker said. “It continues to grow every year and change in different ways.”

It is a gift in other ways, too. An offering taken at the pageant is divided among several Island charities, and the church’s discretionary fund, which Reverend Baker directs to help families in need.

The stage is set at the Agricultural Hall. — Alison L. Mead

The first mention of the pageant found in the Vineyard Gazette was in 1957, though it probably started before that. Jim Athearn, proprietor of Morning Glory Farm and a prominent Island civic leader, played one of the three kings in the 1957 production.

“That was me,” Mr. Athearn said this week. “I was the king that apparently was carrying the gold.” He said he remembers carrying a box full of gold colored beads, and they made quite an impression on the young Mr. Athearn.

“I thought they were just intrinsically gorgeous,” he said. “I thought it was really treasure. That’s about all I remember, other than the usual smattering of lambs and what not.”

Thirteen-year-old Jack Marshard will be in the pageant again this year.

“I am Joseph, I’m Jesus’s father,” he said. “I think it’s pretty important, especially right before Christmas, just to keep the story in everybody’s heads, especially for Christians, just for everybody to remember how the Christian religion was started.”

Mateo Lynch will play a sheep. — Alison L. Mead

Carrie Fyler was among the parents dropping off their kids for pageant rehearsal this week.

“They are thrilled,” said Ms. Fyler. “We’ve been coming to the pageant for probably eight or nine years. This is the first year our children have been involved in the pageant. It’s a very big deal.”

The pageant has grown in recent years to a genuine phenomenon. An estimated 700 to 800 people are expected to attend the Christmas Eve event, held in the Ag Hall to accommodate the crowds.

An elevated stage, borrowed from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, is a new element of the production this year. Organizers hope it will allow people to see the pageant better from the back rows.

“It just keeps getting bigger and bigger and word spreads and people want to be in it,” said Ms. Fielder, the producer. “It’s very close to people’s hearts. We’re seeing these kids that started out when they were five years old. Even though we change the blocking, we change things a little bit from year to year, they know what’s coming, and they know where they’re supposed to be and they guide the littler kids. That’s kind of cool.”

The pageant has grown so much in recent years that organizers may have trouble accepting more than the current cast of 48 children. There are only so many camels and angels that can fit on the stage.

In recent years, nearly 800 people have come to the pageant. — Alison L. Mead

“A lot of families really want to be part of it,” said Ms. Lash. “They feel very moved and uplifted by seeing this disparate group of kids working together to tell a story. A lot of people are looking for something larger than themselves around Christmas. Art has a wonderful way of delivering that so that we feel like we’re plugged into and engaged with something bigger. Kids want that too.”

Ms. Lash, a veteran of theatre in New York city, is directing the pageant for the third year. She said some of her favorite moments are when things don’t go exactly as planned. Aside from a few comical breaks, however, she said it is a solemn story, and that is not lost on the young children.

“The kids get that they’re telling a story for other people that’s a very meaningful story,” said Ms. Lash. “It’s really important to me in working with them that they don’t have to believe in any particular religion, that they can just understand this is a story about hope, and a story about a journey, and a story about something molecular and magical happening. Kids really get that.”