Let’s get one thing straight right now: No one is banning Nativity plays, despite any bullshit you might read in the papers. No one. And if they are, it’s not because of some creeping Sharia hoohaa, or politically correct nonsense; it’s probably because a lot of parents are atheists, and they’re wanting Christmas to be more secular. So stop with the anti-Muslim crap, because it’s the Godless heathens like me you want to worry about.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, Christmas is really about a story. Not about a refugee underage virgin being impregnated by a divine spirit, only to be persecuted into giving birth in an unsanitary slum whilst being doted on by some sheep herders and astronomers, and being threatened by a child-murdering despot… no. It’s all about our children being in plays.
For some parents who might be deemed to be “pushy” (oh no, not me; although after Alice’s most recent performance in the After-school Drama Club’s production of The Naughty Goblin Neighbour, I did give her notes – most of which were “look at the audience, not the scenery on stage”, “don’t be distracted by the fake grass during your solo”, “please ensure no one can see your knickers”, and “for God’s sake, don’t pick your nose in front of hundreds of people”), the Nativity Play is the moment when the idea that your child is the next Olivier or Dench gets incepted into your head – absolutely not me, although I am perhaps maybe looking into enrolling her into a Saturday-morning drama club next year, because Alice seems enthusiastic about acting and performing, and this is in no way vicariously living out my hopes and dreams through my daughter. Oh no.
Nativity Plays are wondrous things. If you’ve never seen a Nativity being performed in a British primary school by under-sevens, you have not experienced a true Christmas. First, there’s the acting. Here is a typical Nativity version of the Annunciation, possibly the most mystical event of the Christian faith:
And lo, there wath a gweat light, and an nangel came to Mawee in Natheweth
[enter the Archangel Gabriel after an eight-second pause and hissing of instructions from teacher, clumping onto stage, *clump* *clump* *clump*]
‘Ere Mary, yer gonna ‘av a baybee an’ ‘is nayme is Jeezirs
[exit Gabriel after 12-second pause and hissed instructions from the wings, *clump* *clump* *clump*]
In a previous post, I mentioned what happened when Alice became the Holy Mother, and how she expanded the role into something more declamatory and Brechtian. This year the role went to someone else. As it was to one of her bezzie mates, Alice didn’t mind. Also, said chum did not shout, pick nose, or pretend to breastfeed the infant Christ. In any case, Alice has at least followed in both mine and Sarah’s footsteps 30 years ago, and was asked to narrate (albeit one line, which she read the hell out of, and I didn’t in any way coach her or provide line-reading advice on pitch and phrasing. Noooo. Not me *whistles a merry and nonchalent tune*).
Alice was an Angel this year, and I’m still pretty sure Angels are more discreet with their nose-picking. As usual, most of the lines were mumbled, or delivered to the performer’s shoes. One of the innkeepers shook his head too vigorously and his tea-towel fell off his head. One of Alice’s classmates made for an enthusiastic dancing camel. There was prancing by the children wearing leotards, representing stars. The whole class was in it, even the “hyperactive” kids took part when they’re normally excluded from such things, and really gave it their all, dancing in the uptempo carols like they just didn’t care, and actually reading their lines out audibly.
Secondly, there’s the singing. Back in the dim and distant early-to-mid-80s, there was a teacher in every school – usually either the Head, or the most spinsterish teacher on the staff – who could bash out a reasonable hymn or two on a crapboard piano with questionable tuning in assembly. Now it seems this is a tradition that has vanished from our schools, and there are no spinsters available to play the piano (and Heads have much more important things to do). So instead, we had a CD of Christmas songs that accompanied this version of the Nativity – so no ‘Little Donkey’, unfortunately – and the children sang along to pre-recorded piano and, heartbreakingly, a pre-recorded choir of stage-school children. Not cool. The closest we got to a spinster playing the piano while the children sang was the unmarried (although congratulations on your subsequent Christmas wedding, Mr Alice’smaleclassteacher!) and rather boyish male teacher strumming an out-of-tune nylon-string guitar with appalling technique while a choir of gap-toothed children lisp-sang ‘Away In A Manger’.
There’s something about children with a variety of missing teeth and speech impediments singing Away In A Manger that really hits me right… there. No matter how commercialised Christmas is, how ugly the centre of town becomes, how there is a last minute panic, how bad-tempered, how grey the weather is, how much we drink, how much we start to loathe Slade and Wizzard (and Fairytale of New York, for that matter), how much Christmas becomes a pressure-cooker full of anxiety, or how cynical we all get… the moment a small child sings Silent Night, or Away In A Manger, everything shuts up, and you’re transported back to when Christmas meant childlike joy and innocence – no money, no adverts, no drunken arguments, no Daily Mail complaining, no panic, no anxiety, no heartlessness, no pain, just hope and love. That’s Christmas to me – a simple voice singing a simple song, and expressing love for the moment and the family. Not all this ridiculous, camp, sparkling frippery.
And when the play had come to an end, a group of adults had a screaming row, including screeching obscenities at each other, in front of the schoolchildren and all the other parents, while the school’s staff tried desperately to calm everyone down as diplomatically as possible. No, I’m not joking. I don’t know what it was about, but it was loud, obnoxious, and ironically appeared to be concerning questionable public behaviour. I wish I could say it was all the pushy posh parents taking part, because that would have been hilarious, but it wasn’t. It was, sad to say, the full fucking Kyle.
At one point, I found myself saying to one of those involved something I’ve never said to another adult: “Hey! Watch your language! There are children present!”, which got a “I don’t give a fuck what you think”, which once again proves that I sadly have no authority, nor can command respect from other adults. So naturally, I did what I normally do in such circumstances: Dragged Alice away, and then scuttled off to have a thorough gossip with all the other mums, leaving the teachers (who were pretty awesome about it, to be fair) to diplomatically try to calm things down in between the sine waves of extraordinarily maritime language. And then someone got hit and blood appeared. And lo, all agreed it was to be declared the most magical time of the year.
And if any of those parents happen to stumble across this blog, here is my follow-up: You did this at the children’s Nativity in front of ALL the children and loads of other parents, who all took immense delight in tutting at you. Well done. No really, that was one amazing social and parental fuckup in front of your kids, my daughter, and hundreds of people who you have to meet in the playground every day, and I’m glad it wasn’t me. I hope you pride yourself to sleep every night from now on (but thanks for the material for the blog, and the anecdote, which should get me through the party season for this and many years to come).
And thus, another classic Yule memory has been established. Every year brings a new tradition, eh?
I missed the second performance of the two-day run, where Alice was suddenly cast as the Angel Gabriel due to illness. I don’t know what happened, as I was in work, but a lot of the mums have told me she was “brilliant” whilst stifling giggles.
As I write this, Alice has just come into the room wearing a squirrel onesie, and said “Daddy, I want to tell you something”
She has just proceeded to sing Away In A Manger to me, and then she left the room, having turned me into a teary puddle. There it is, right there… that’s Christmas.
Have a happy one, you!