Mention the words “Nativity play” and misty eyed parents conjure up images of cherub-faced children dressed as shepherds or sweetly singing festive songs in front of a charmingly constructed wobbly stable set with a shawl-swaddled plastic doll in a manger as the centrepiece.
The reality of modern day nativities can be tears, tantrums, rivalry and complete losing of the plot .... and that’s just the parents.
There’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks about modern day Christmas plays and how some parents are disgruntled at the way schools are scrapping the traditional Christmas story in favour of updated versions featuring aliens, spacemen, footballers, robots,, Jeremy Kyle and even Alan Sugar bellowing: “You’re fired!”
Personally, I’m all for moving with the times and accepting change and I find the modern takes on nativities refreshing and it makes a nice change to see the children put their own creative twists to a performance rather than watching the same story year in and year out. After all, there’s only so many times you can hear “Little Donkey” and “Away In a Manger”.
It was an emotional moment for Hubby and I watching our twosome in this year’s school Christmas production as it was their last before they leave junior school to embark for pastures new.
True to form, all the children put on a fantastic show for the parents. And their festive offering was the perfect blend of modern and traditional with a carol service in church with children narrating and an appearance from “Chatty Man Alan Carr” who interviewed Mary and Angel Gabriel about that momentous day when Jesus was born.
But traditional or modern, all parents are filled with pride when they see their child take to the stage for their five seconds of fame. And although we always preach: “It’s the taking part that counts” to our youngsters, every parent secretly longs for their little one to have a momentous part in their school production.
But with so many children to fit into the play, it is inevitable that not everyone can have a starring role and so many youngsters find themselves given minor parts so everyone can join the show.
In my day, minor roles in Christmas plays usually meant girls playing the parts of angels with lots of tinsel in their hair while the lads put tea towels on their heads to be “extra” shepherds or even the sheep.
But top marks for the teachers of today for coming up with some truly original and bizarre smaller parts when doling out the minor roles. I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill little parts like trees, snowflakes and stars, but totally off the wall parts like a Christmas cracker, a piece of straw and even a flea.
My favourite tale, though, was of the little kid who played the part of the door knob on the innkeeper’s door which Mary and Joseph knock on, hunting for a bed for the night.
There’s always criticism from some parents that it’s always the same children who get picked for the main roles in school plays while others are marginalised to play something obscure like “the wind” and stand at the side of the stage puffing.
It must be a tricky task for teachers as I’m sure they try to choose children with clear and audible voices for the speaking parts.
But sometimes, there is a certain typecasting and when I was growing up, the cutest, blondest girl always landed the starring role.
As the goofy looking Asian lass with pigtails and NHS specs, there was no way I was ever going to get picked as Mary, was I?
One of my earliest recollections of taking part in a school production was at the age of about six or seven when our school year performed the children’s story Hansel and Gretel.
My blink-or-you’ll-miss it part was...one of the Sandman’s two assistants. Yes, when Hansel and Gretel fall asleep, it is the Sandman and his two assistants who fling sleep dust into their eyes. And I was one of the two assistants dressed in the sort of costume Wee Willie Winkie should have been arrested for sporting in public.
It seems I wasn’t alone as when I questioned my friends and colleagues about the roles they held in school plays, it seems many of us still harbour resentment at missing out on the plum parts and being sidelined to play something completely needless.
One lad grumbled he always had to play a tree. And one friend said she had been mentally scarred for life after playing the back legs of the donkey. Another friend said he played a beggar in his school play and wore a hessian sack cloth costume and a black beard which were both extremely itchy. He spent his entire time on stage scratching as though he had fleas.
If casting decisions in school productions ever get you down, console yourself with the thought that the ones who get the bigger roles are usually the gobby kids who always get in trouble for talking in class.
But big or small, whatever part your child has in a school play, there’s one thing that’s guaranteed. When it comes to the final curtain, you’ll be beaming with pride and clapping as though you’ve just seen an Oscar worthy performance.