Easter Pageants are an age-old tradition in the United States, with celebrations ranging from small presentations in community churches to large-scale Passion Plays. Among the longest-running and now by far the largest annual performance is the Mesa Arizona Easter Pageant. This production, organized by the Church of Latter Day Saints, has been around for almost a century and is now acclaimed as the largest annual outdoor Easter pageant in the world.
Easter, the holiest day of the Christian calendar, has been celebrated for centuries in America with an array of customs, both religious and cultural. From Palm Sunday processionals to egg hunts and even civic parades, the Easter season is second only to Christmas in terms of traditions, and among the most important of these is the Easter Pageant.
Easter Pageants have their roots in Passion Plays, performances that tell the story of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, his arrest, torture and execution, and finally his triumphal resurrection. These plays originated in Europe and eventually made their way to America, becoming particularly popular in the 20th century.
While most Easter Pageants are small community affairs, some have reached epic proportions. Among the best known of these are the pageants put on by the Church of Latter Day Saints; and the greatest of these by far is the Mesa Arizona Easter Pageant. Founded in 1928, it began as a simple sunrise Easter service.
The Pageant became an annual event and an overnight hit with the local Mormon community. In the nearly nine decades since, the once-small performance has grown into a massive affair which runs for the two weeks leading up to Easter. In recent years, the production has attracted in excess of 150,000 people, earning it the title of largest annual outdoor Easter Pageant in the world.
The Mesa Arizona Easter Pageant, officially known as Jesus the Christ, is performed annually over the two weeks leading up to Easter. The stage and set are immense and are erected and removed every year. They feature a substantial recreation of Jerusalem, including Golgotha, with room for hundreds of actors.
At last count, the performance ran at just over an hour. It is currently directed by Nancy Wudel. The cast of 450 is strictly voluntary, and while consisting mostly of Mormons, does have members of other churches participating.
The mesa Arizona Easter Pageant takes place on the grounds of the Mormon Temple near downtown Mesa, approximately twelve miles east of Phoenix. As of this writing performance times were not available. The pageant is open to the public, with seating on a first-come first-served basis. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.easterpageant.org (official website).
The Church of Latter Day Saints put on a half dozen of the largest Easter Pageants in the United States. In addition to the one in Mesa, there are the Castle Valley Pageant, Clarkston Pageant and Mormon Miracle Pageant in Utah; the Hill Cumorah Pageant in Palmyra, New York; and the Nauvoo Pageant in Nauvoo, Illinois.