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Forget the West End! As Nothing beats the magic of your child’s nativity play

6 December 2015 3,150 views No Comment

By Quentin Letts for the Daily Mail
nativitiyUnmissable: The acting may not be spot-on, but nothing beats a children’s nativity play
Christmas has its modern rituals, some lovelier than others. There are the emotive telly adverts for John Lewis and there are the drunken office parties. Modern Christmas means Slade on Radio 2, mince pies on the canteen counter, town centre fairy lights being lit by minor soap stars.
But surely the most memorable, moving of Christmas customs in recent decades has been the primary school nativity play. I don’t recall us holding them in the Sixties, when I was at nursery school, but by the mid-Eighties they were a firm part of December’s festive rigmarole.
Young children would step hesitantly onto a stage and, with a certain amount of gulping and cue-forgetting and the sweetest earnestness, would enact the 2,000-year-old story of Mary and Joseph’s search for accommodation in Bethlehem.
You know the scene. Audiences of mums and dads and grandparents blink back tears as their little poppets dramatise the birth of the infant Jesus.
With a rattle of a tambourine and maybe a few notes of squeaky flute, the arrival of the Three Wise Men follows, these Magi being three wide-eyed six-year-olds done up with Yasser Arafat headscarves and cotton-wool beards which refuse to stay in place.
The headscarves bear an uncanny resemblance to tea towels and the guiding star is pretty obviously made of Bacofoil, but so much the better. The very amateurishness of the enterprise is part of its appeal. Who wants slick production values in a nativity play.
Of all Advent’s lovely routines, this has surely long been the best. Everyone crowds into the school assembly hall. The form teacher kneels at the front, mouthing the words to the performers. Shyer mites have to have their hands held by their more confident classmates and quite often the camel will be played by a lurcher or Irish wolfhound or maybe a Shetland pony (which is quite capable of disgracing itself by producing a pile of manure or trying to eat the hay in the manger). And as the story plays out, and little Joseph shows sweet concern for his pregnant wife Mary, and the Angel Gabriel steps forth in a pair of ballet tights and a set of wings made from cardboard and artwork glue, everyone goes ‘ahhhhh’.
Melting: Even the most hardbitten, cynical dad (including Quentin Letts) finds his eyes prickling with tears. And even the most hardbitten, cynical dad — believe me, I have been such a creature — finds his eyes prickling with salty tears. The pride you feel as a parent is better than any triumph at work. That fourth shepherd, the one standing at the back, picking his nose? See him? That’s my son! That’s my little buster, my lad, taking part in a school production for the first time! You can barely manage to get a clear shot with your camera, you are fighting back the tears so much. Yet now, we learn, the nativity play is in peril. A recent survey by Netmums, a parenting website, showed that only a third of schools intend to stage a traditional nativity play this year. One in eight has dropped the Christmas story in favour of a ‘modern alternative without religious references’.
If that doesn’t set your teeth on edge, wait till you hear that one school in every 14 is apparently opting for a fully secular event entitled something like ‘Winter Celebration’. Many schools reportedly intend to try to introduce modern characters such as footballers or a drunken spaceman or Elvis or even — good grief
Lord Sugar from TV’s The Apprentice. Sugar! Do they want the toddlers at the front of the audience to start wailing in terror?No doubt the militant humanists and secularists will be delighted. Christianity will take another torpedo to the engine rooms, or so they may reckon. And there are worrying statistics to suggest that the basics of Christian education are certainly being badly neglected.
The Bible Society this year published findings that a quarter of children in Britain have ‘never heard of the Nativity’. They presumably think that Christmas is entirely a commercial festival. How depressing As a churchgoer, I suppose that should be my primary concern: that my faith is being undermined. But it is not.
The reason I regret this trend away from school nativity plays has little to do with religion. It is something more to do with our development as a community, as parents, as families. It is in part a regret about the performance opportunities which will be denied to youngsters.
It is not that starring in a nativity play will make Kenneth Branaghs and Helen Mirrens out of them. It is that theatrical performance is an excellent way of increasing a child’s confidence. And there is also a regret that parents will be denied a moment of the most magical pride in their little ones — a moment that can be enjoyed by any parent, no matter how gifted the child.
For is that not one of the lovely truths about nativity plays?
OK, some parents can become horribly competitive about what part their child lands. But the buzz felt by the fourth shepherd’s dad is every bit as intense as that felt by the parent of the child playing Joseph or Mary.
The achievement of a slow developer who manages to pull off the role of Bethlehem donkey or one of Herod’s soldiers is arguably greater than that of the talented child who plays one of the bigger roles.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2860122/QUENTIN-LETTS-Forget-West-End-schools-shun-joyous-tradition-theatre-critic-says-beats-magic-child-s-nativity-play.html#ixzz3tWjxHBqh

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