WASHINGTON – When the Girl Scouts of Upper Montgomery County were thinking about performing at the Pageant of Peace on the Ellipse this year, some parents worried about security in the wake of Sept. 11.
But the only fear the girls might have to grapple with now is stage fright.
“We just decided that families could go, and that would put some of the parents at ease,” said Alice Castellano, the scouts’ Southern Germantown service unit leader.
“I think we felt that participating in the pageant was more important this year,” Castellano said. “After all, it is all about peace.”
The scouts are one of 19 Maryland groups that will perform in the National Park Service’s Pageant of Peace at the Ellipse. In all, more than 50 groups are expected to contribute to the performances that began Thursday with the lighting of the National Christmas Tree by President Bush and will continue through Dec. 29.
The tradition started in 1923, when President Coolidge lit the first national tree on the Ellipse. The Pageant of Peace celebrations began in the 1950s, said Roland McElroy, executive director of the non-profit organization that runs the pageant.
McElroy said there have been performers at the pageant “as far back as I can remember.” But recruiting this year got off to a slow start, apparently because of Sept. 11: McElroy said the Park Service handles registration of performers and told him that fewer applications were submitted this year than in previous years.
But “as we got closer to the actual lighting ceremony, the number of registrations have gone up,” he said. Park Service officials were still adding groups Friday, but performers are already lined up for the rest of the month, with a break from Dec. 24 to Dec. 26.
The Maryland participants include the Olney Elementary School Chorus. The 70 fifth-graders will sing eight or nine songs Thursday, said music teacher Debra Newhall.
“They’re very excited,” Newhall said. “They’ve been talking about this for weeks.”
The children have been practicing during the school day, and some have come to school early so they can be “better prepared for this performance,” she said.
Newhall, who has been teaching in Montgomery County for 20 years, said this is her eighth time taking children to Washington to sing. “It’s always a lot of fun,” she said.
Castellano’s Girl Scouts have performed on the Ellipse once before, in 1997. This year’s group, which includes scouts from several troops in upper Montgomery County, will perform Saturday.
She said the group plans a holiday arrangement for its half-hour performance, with songs representing Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa as well as some traditional Girl Scout songs.
“We have girls that are kindergarten age up to high schoolers that have been practicing,” Castellano said. “They seem very excited, I think especially the younger group who have never done it before.”