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There's nothing like a Nativity play to put the Christmas message across, says Maria Corby

We know we're going to do a Nativity this year; we always do, but then we always go through the motions of considering other options. "I thought we might do something different this year - what about a pantomime?" This is from one of our men who is always looking for an excuse to dress up in stilettos and a wig. Are all male teachers like this or just "special" ones? Either way, he's outnumbered and will have to save his urges for the staff party. "What about Christmas around the world?" suggests our art teacher. "Each class could take a continent and look at different customs."

We like this idea but it's already half-term and we haven't got time to make costumes and learn multicultural songs.

The head settles the matter. "Let's do a Nativity; the parents like it and I've got a job lot of tea towels." We breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Then come rehearsals. "Really, what are the children getting out of this - they've missed swimming and they're out of routine." This is teacher-speak for the teachers have missed swimming (a lesson in which they don't have to think) and they're out of routine (autistic tendencies are prevalent among staff as well as the pupils).

The dress rehearsal, as always, is a disaster. The inn keeper will not open the door when Joseph knocks. Mary has a temper tantrum and throws the sheep at the audience and the littlest angel picks up baby Jesus and starts chewing his leg.

The day dawns and children are robed, glitter is applied and scenery is arranged. The hall is in darkness and the audience hushed. Suddenly, something magical happens. Mary smiles serenely as she is pushed along by Joseph in her wheelchair (which is disguised as a donkey). Rupert, one of the kings, walks up to the baby Jesus, kneels and bows his head. The staff are astonished. Rupert, who is severely autistic, had just about managed to walk into the hall during rehearsals. The littlest angel, a shy girl who has Down's syndrome, walks on to the stage using her walking frame, beams at the audience, and melts everyone's hearts. We look at each with silly smiles and moist eyes, and out at the audience, who are quietly snuffling.

We've remembered who we're doing it for. Christmas is for everyone.

Maria Corby is the deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties in the west of England. She writes under a pseudonym

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