The Christmas Nativity

December Blog: The Christmas Nativity

The October half-term disappears, and music teachers and co-ordinators up and down the country brace themselves for what is always the busiest half-term in the whole school calendar – Christmas!

As we reach December, I can only imagine the carol singing, prop-making, costume designing, script writing and line rehearsing that’s going on in primary schools everywhere. Having been in full nativity ‘swing’ myself since October, and unashamedly experienced moments of being completely overwhelmed despite many years of ‘nativity experience’, I find myself asking the following questions:

  • Why a nativity?
  • Who is the nativity for?
  • What are the benefits for the children?
  • What makes a good nativity?
  • How can we deliver something effective, fit for purpose whilst still being mindful of staff workload? Is it possible?
  • What advantages can we take from the mid-pandemic Christmas of 2020 to inform and guide future practice with school performances?

I decided to put some of these questions to various members of our school community (including Senior Leaders, parents, teachers, kitchen staff, children and teaching assistants), and found the answers rather thought-provoking. Please do note that I work in a non-faith, state primary school in a very multicultural, diverse area of South London. Here are just three of the questions I asked and some of the responses:

Why a nativity?

It’s important to teach our children about the Christmas story and the meaning behind Christmas.

To give younger children an opportunity to access Christian celebrations as part of our R.E. curriculum in a fun and creative way through music, drama and dance – one that they will remember!

So that we can put on a show for our adults and get dressed up!

Who is the nativity for?

For our whole school community

For our children – to give them a chance to perform and show off their creativity.

For our mummies and daddies and families.

What makes a good nativity?

A fun, engaging storyline with catchy songs that are relevant to our children

Where the children have simple songs and lines to learn that don’t put excess pressure on the children themselves or their parents (or staff)!

Short and sweet – something that doesn’t take over school life for weeks on end!

On whatever end of the ‘nativity’ spectrum you find yourself at your workplace, these would be my important take-aways from discussing the nativity with my school community:

  • The school nativity does not need to take over the second half of your Autumn half-term. Perhaps in smaller settings, you can choose a nativity which involves the whole school, each class taking a song and a scene.
  • Although many of us find ourselves in culturally rich and diverse environments with fewer Christian families, Christianity makes up a significant part of our R.E. curriculum, and the nativity is one way to learn about Christian celebrations and help children to retain their learning.
  • Elaborate costumes are not a necessity for a good nativity performance. This is no good for parent/teacher relationships when foisting this on busy working parents; the workload for you or your colleagues. Spread the load – ask children to bring in basic costumes from home if possible (e.g. a black t-shirt, a white top) and create costumes together with the children within their provision and to use their imagination
  • Allow children to take ownership of their own performance where possible, choosing/writing the script, creating their own costumes/headbands, painting the backdrop or making props.
  • Distribute songs across classes.
  • Why not create your own nativity script with the children, interspersed with songs they are already familiar with?
  • Ensure you have listened to all of the songs in a prospective nativity and assess as to whether the pitch range and rhythmic complexity of the songs is appropriate for your children and fits with their music curriculum
  • If you’re not sure where to look, ‘Out of the Ark’ do some amazing nativities which include ‘Words-on-Screen’ and actions for classes to follow.
  • Your nativity doesn’t have to be live. Over the last year during the pandemic, schools were incredibly resourceful – finding new ways for children to showcase their talents, whilst mindful of their community’s health. Why not use free software such as ‘Soundtrap’ or ‘Bandlab’ to create your own school podcast this year?

Good luck with your performances in this busy season, and wishing you a well-deserved, restful break!