Schools substitute footballers for baby Jesus

Schools are eschewing the nativity, with its coveted roles of Mary, Joseph and the Angel Gabriel. Picture: Neil Doig
Schools are eschewing the nativity, with its coveted roles of Mary, Joseph and the Angel Gabriel. Picture: Neil Doig
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THE traditional nativity play is facing increasing competition from modern shows featuring pop stars and footballers.

Less than a third of schools still hold a traditional play featuring baby Jesus and the Three Wise Men, with many opting to put on “winter celebrations” or “end of year concerts” instead.

A study has also found that 7 per cent of schools across the UK even refuse to call the festive productions a Christmas or nativity performance,

But it revealed 35 per cent of children still sing traditional carols and hymns, while one in four performs Christmas pop songs instead.

The survey also found one in 100 schools now asks pupils to perform plays over the festive period which incorporate information on other faiths, including Eid, an Islamic festival, or Diwali, a Hindu festival.

However, according to the survey of 2,157 mothers and fathers by parenting site Netmums, most parents want to keep alive the nativity tradition – with two-thirds of those with children at school who do not perform nativity plays wishing they did so.

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Netmums co-founderSiobhan Freegard said: “Do they know it’s Christmas? At some schools, it seems not.

“While the UK is a diverse and multicultural society and it’s right children learn about all religions and cultures, many parents feel the traditional nativity is being pushed aside.

“It seems wrong to bombard kids with commercial messages about presents and Santa without them realising the true meaning of the celebration.

“This study shows many parents who aren’t religious look to the nativity as a comforting part of the Christmas celebrations and want their school to embrace and celebrate it, rather than make up a version with perhaps less resonance for kids.

“Christmas is about peace, acceptance and tolerance, so let’s see more schools accept back this tradition.”

This view was echoed by Douglas McLellan, chair of the Humanist Society Scotland, an atheist organisation which aims to promote a secular nation, who feels that a traditional nativity is part and parcel of the festive season. He said: “Christmas is Christmas and we’re not looking to ban it. I don’t think anyone genuinely feels offended by a traditional nativity play.

“I feel there is more to be said for explaining where a religion comes from than staging a play filled with pop culture and footballers.

“Nowadays Christmas is pretty much looked upon as a time of shopping and consumerism rather than a time of reverence so as long as there is an educational value to the play then I see no problem.”

The survey also revealed that while 91 per cent of schools stage some form of Christmas performance, one in eight has dropped traditional nativity characters altogether to stage a “modern nativity” with no religious references. And it also revealed that nearly half of schools – 47 per cent – stage an “updated nativity” mixing modern and traditional characters.

Another growing trend is the practice of charging parents to attend the Christmas play, with 17 per cent of schools now requesting an entrance fee, while 9 per cent expect a donation to the school.

Former England cricket captain Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff recently joined the debate when he tweeted about having to pay £4 to see his seven-year-old daughter, Holly, perform in her school play.

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