"An American Christmas" at the end of the 20th century"

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CLEVELAND- "An American Christmas," a one-hour special for Christmas Eve, will debut on CBS-TV Dec. 24 at 11:35 p.m., the slot normally occupied by "The David Letterman Show." Filled with the heart-warming music and striking visual images of the Christmas season, the program illustrates the variety of ways—cultural, ethnic, regional and liturgical—that Christmas is celebrated in North America at the end of the 20th century.

Produced by the United Church of Christ Office of Communication, the National Council of Churches and the National Interfaith Cable Coalition, the show is also scheduled for Odyssey, the interfaith cable network, at 2 a.m. EST on Christmas Day and at 3 p.m. EST on Sunday, Dec. 26. (For exact times on both networks in your community, please check local listings.)

"An American Christmas" tells the Christmas story through a group of children preparing for their annual Christmas pageant. At the final rehearsal, the group is led through the Christmas narrative by Joe Fredericks, father of one of the children and the pageant's advisor. Together, Joe and the children wrestle with the question: Why bother to tell and re-tell the Christmas story, especially at the dawn of a new millennium?

 The show sweeps the viewer along from the principal action to engaging real-life vignettes and magnificent music from different cultures and traditions. Saxophones on New York City streets, Native American folk art and a Mexican-American Posada in San Antonio, Texas, are among the stories that illustrate how beauty and diversity in our spiritual expression enriches us all.

"An American Christmas" boasts a talented cast of stage and screen performers. Joe Morton, veteran of film and the Broadway stage, plays Joe Fredericks. Hayden Panettiere, who was the voice of Dot in "A Bug's Life" and will soon appear in a film starring Denzel Washington, portrays one of the children. Tim Shew, currently Jean Valjean in the Broadway production of "Les Miserables," performs. Kim and Reggie Harris, experts on the underground railroad and delightful performers in their own right, bring a sense of history to the program. Jeffrey Radford, music director of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, leads an exuberant, 250-member choral ensemble that combines classical European selections with African-American spirituals.

The United Church of Christ, with national offices in Cleveland, has some 1.4 million members and more than 6,000 local congregations in the United States and Puerto Rico. It was formed by the 1957 union of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Its Office of Communication carries out projects to protect the public interest and advance affirmative action in telecommunications, provides educational programs in communication and handles public relations for the denomination.

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