Sally Hall: Traditional nativity plays are becoming things of the past

Kings, and Shepherds gather around the crib with Mary and Joseph.
Kings, and Shepherds gather around the crib with Mary and Joseph.
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The school nativity play always seemed as solid a Christmas tradition as holly wreaths and carol singers.

But apparently, it’s now becoming a thing of the past.

According to parenting site Netmums, only 30 per cent of schools now stage a traditional nativity play.

Quite apart from the loss of a British tradition, this signals many missed opportunities for comedy gold...

I still remember the time a classmate wreaked havoc during our primary school nativity play. Rocketed to the hallowed position of Mary, the flax-haired cutester was probably nervous about seizing her moment in the limelight.

As the cast lined up for a paparazzi-style wall of parental flashbulbs, we sat on the school benches in order of height, as previously rehearsed.

Tall for my age, I was on the back row with the boys, together comprising a disorderly medley of sheep, donkeys and tea-towel headed shepherds.

Although I was disappointed to be relegated to the ‘livestock’ section of the nativity I soon had cause to be relieved about my lowly position.

Because Mary’s anxiety evidently got the better of her, and a torrent of unholy water suddenly soaked through her blue robes.

As if weeing herself wasn’t bad enough, Mary was surrounded by at least five other children.

Each of them played it like a pro, maintaining toothy grins even as the warm liquid pooled under their dainty bottoms – and started dripping onto the bench below.

Even though it must have cooled down markedly by the time it reached them, the bottom row of nativity stalwarts also maintained an impressively professional stance throughout the whole debacle.

What a shame amusing incidents like this are apparently expected to become a thing of the past.

Instead, schools are attempting to tread a line that encompasses their multi-faith and multi-cultural demographics with a celebration of family values and an avoidance of crass over-commercialisation.

A laudable aim, I’d say – although how those good intentions lead to plays involving aliens and Elvis impersonators, it’s hard to speculate.

Of the 2000+ parents polled by the site, 60 per cent identified the nativity play was being offered in an alternative format at their children’s school. One school was even recreating The Apprentice, with Alan Sugar taking over from the Angel Gabriel as the man with the power to choose the anointed one.

Perhaps the move away from traditional formats is as much about crowd-control as respect for modern sensibilities. I don’t envy the teachers having to referee cat-fighting parents or field off bribes of mince pies to ensure their princess gets to wear the halo.

I think what made my heart sink more than anything about the survey was the revelation that tinsel haloes and garden twine belts are being replaced with shop-bought mass-produced costumes, offering a less homespun look for the crew at the manger.

The whole point of the nativity, in my eyes, is not to venerate Jesus (although fair enough, if that’s what it means to you), but to enable a bunch of kids to look cute in shonky home-made costumes on stage, so their mums and dads can experience a moment of heart-shaking parental pride.

Whether the play involves aliens, or Elvis (or firing five-year-olds whose business plan falls short of the high entrepreneurial standards expected) it should still afford this opportunity for kids to bask in the glow of their parents’ admiration – preferably in a suitably shonky, but non urine-stained, costume.