CHILDREN taking part in school nativity plays are given increasingly random parts, such as a Strictly Come Dancing judge, “Margaret Thatcher”, and a pair of underpants, as schools attempt to present more modern versions of the Bible story, new research suggests.
More than half the schools questioned for a Families Online survey have chosen a modern retelling of the story. Unusual characters played by children have included a Morris-dancing shepherd, “Noddy Holder”, and a crew member of the Starship Enterprise, Families Online reported. Other unusual parts were “a carrier bag”, “fried egg (no.2)”, and a “pair of underpants”.
But parents support a more traditional telling of the nativity. Seventy-seven per cent said that they would prefer “old school” performances to return. Only 17 per cent of respondents preferred a modern version.
Just 37 per cent of the schools quizzed were planning to stage a traditional nativity play, in which Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem for the birth of Christ, complete with a donkey.
Although angels and shepherds appeared to be less popular in current nativity plays, the parents surveyed by Families Online said that they most wanted their child to be cast as the Angel Gabriel or the Virgin Mary on the stage.
Other research, by the church insurers Ecclesiastical, suggests that churches are becoming more adventurous, too, in an effort to bring in larger congregations over Christmas.
The company has received enquiries about insurance cover over wide-ranging activities, from the use of live donkeys and camels in nativities to services held in barns.
The customer-service manager at Ecclesiastical, Helen Richards, said last week that churches were “getting more and more adventurous, more and more innovative with their Christmas services to try to attract more people”.
Ms Richards said: “We always get donkeys this time of year, with questions about whether it is OK for them to come into church. This year, we’ve actually had a request for advice on bringing camels into church, which is a first.
“There are a lot more live nativities, with the congregation being walked round during the service. One customer asked us if there would be a problem with angels on stilts, with performers really high up during the service.”
There are extra risks when live animals are involved, however. “We advise the church to think about a separation between the animal and the congregation, supervision of the animals, and, most importantly, cleaning up after to avoid slips and trips,” Ms Richards said.
Ecclesiastical tried to accommodate requests for specialist cover, and “more often than not” these events were covered, she said. “We want to support the churches to do as much as they can to get people in for Christmas, and we try to help as much as possible, especially when they want to try new, innovative things. More often than not they are covered.”
Another survey carried out by Ecclesiastical suggests that Christmas services still remain popular. Nineteen per cent of those polled visited their local church for a service at Christmas.
The insurers warned their clients to take extra care over the Christmas period because of these increased congregations.
JO POMEROY/WINTERSHALLOutdoors: a scene from the Wintershall Nativity, which was performed last week in Surrey