The school nativity season is in full swing, with pupils having the chance to be part of one of the greatest stories ever told – but for many parents and teachers, the plays can become “torture”.
Yet many people love them. “I absolutely weep at these events. I have no idea why,” one mother told us.
Among teachers, opinions are equally mixed.
“Stressful to create but a pleasure to watch,” is a typical verdict.
“Trust me, school plays are a nightmare. By the time Christmas comes. I’m all, ‘Bah humbug’.”
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‘I was a tree’
Some parents will go to great lengths to ensure their children land a starring role: “Personal highlight was my sixth daughter being Mary. I was going to carry on having children until I got a Mary.”
But what about the children who are not chosen?
Disappointment can result in jealousy.
One newly cast Mary from Brighton “came home full of joy”, according to her dad, but could not understand why her best friend was suddenly picking on her.
Canny schools try to make sure everyone feels important.
“My daughter proudly told me that she was going to be ‘narratorate’. That turned out to be between narrator seven and narrator nine,” reports one mother from Preston.
Some roles definitely lack glamour: “I was a tree one year,” remembers a former London pupil.
This was a non-speaking part. “I just stood around wearing a cardboard tube.”
Making the costumes can be a burden – but these days time-poor parents can buy ready-made versions of the necessary outfits.
Not everyone approves, though. “I loved them when parents made their own costumes. These days many parents buy their children outfits from supermarkets, and all the shepherds are dressed alike,” said a grandmother of four from Shropshire.
However, the good old days were not good for everyone. “I was once a shepherd and got called out in my rehearsal because my costume (my dad’s dressing gown) was ‘too dirty'”.
The “props” do not always behave appropriately. “I had to lead a donkey across the church once and it did a wee on the altar,” recalled one former nativity starlet.
And sometimes the young actors get it wrong.
“I dropped baby Jesus. Luckily, baby Jesus was a doll,” confessed one former Mary, now a doctor.
“I was a very nervous angel and had to climb a small stepladder onto a table to deliver my lines. Just as I got to the top, I tripped over my dress, fell flat on my face and slid slowly back down the ladder.”
“My daughter changed the course of history by running off hand-in-hand with one of the kings after her appearance as Mary.”
Some parents are less than thrilled by the religious element.
“I loathed all the sentimental superstitious [rubbish] and ruined my daughter’s life by insisting she be a shepherd, ie a real human rather than some mythical beast [such as an] angel,” one parent confessed.
Others are more pragmatic. “I just wish they would sing proper carols,” said another nativity veteran. “I loved the Christmas concerts at school, with the kids and parents all joining in together.
“The religious element didn’t bother me. It just marked the beginning of the excitement.”
Families with other religious backgrounds can find themselves in a tricky spot. “When I was cast as Mary at my primary school near Watford my parents swore us to secrecy in the wider family in case my dad’s mum, who was Jewish, found out,” admitted one.
Some schools, decide the most sensible thing is to duck the religion entirely and hold a “school panto” instead – and this opens up entirely new costume opportunities, according to one former pupil.
“At my inner London primary school there was no shortage of wannabe dames among the boys. This was the one chance all year to wear a dress in public and no-one would bat an eyelid.”
Additional reporting by Carolyn Bramble.