Christmas productions

21st December 2007 at 00:00
School nativities and Christmas productions are fraught with peril, but they can also be the highlight of the year. Here people recount some of the highs and lows.


Dan McGinty - Leader of the engagement team for A Curriculum for Excellence

I used to be head at St Columba's High in Perth. We had a traditional school show until a few years ago, when we started to listen to the pupil voice more. The event used to be organised by the teachers. We would have festive songs and carols - the usual stuff. Then we used a partnership approach between pupils and staff.

The new-style show really gives pupils a chance to shine. We've had singers, two pupils impersonating Nancy and Frank Sinatra, magicians and a boy band called Enigma. It has also had a much more enthusiastic response from pupils and generated more interest from parents. An X Factor-style selection panel decides which acts get in. Sitting on it, we had three staff and three pupils. In the past we have had a Muppets theme - when two brave teachers took on the roles of Waldorf and Statler - and a French cafe theme.

You get a real buzz being in school in the run-up to Christmas. But it's a truly exhausting period.


Betty Greenwood - Headteacher, Cumbernauld Primary

One year, when I was working in the east end of Glasgow, there were workmen doing repairs and they refused to stop during the nativity. They were banging away throughout, and just as one of the three kings was coming on stage - Balthazar, I think - it got too much for one woman in the audience. She stood up and shouted, "Will you shut the **** up!" At which point, Balthazar burst into tears, thinking this was directed at him, and Balthazar's mum jumped up to berate the other woman. There was a general melee and people were in stitches - then the workmen got into the spirit by deliberately hammering to the rhythm of the choir.

Another time, we asked all the parents to dress their children up as animals for the nativity. Only when things had started and there were 100 children on the stage did we notice that right at the front was a tiger - and on the other side was a dinosaur.


Helen Connor - Transitions teacher at Coatbridge High and North Lanarkshire primary schools

I remember one Christmas in particular, when I was working at Greenhill Primary in Coatbridge. The nativity play was coming to its climax - baby Jesus had been born and was surrounded by gifts. Unfortunately, Joseph and Mary, who were both Primary 1s, fell out and were fighting over who got to hold Jesus. There was a tug of war over his shawl. They ended up pulling it off and the doll playing Jesus fell naked to the floor. A teacher had to run on stage to put the blanket back on, and the audience was in absolute hysterics. Mary and Joseph managed to make up and, seeing as they were so young, everybody saw the funny side of what had happened.


Ewan Aitken - Former education spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities

I have watched more nativities than I care to remember - I have seen angels fall from the sky, stables collapse like dominoes, lines forgotten despite hours of rehearsal, Mary miss her entrance because she was on the loo, wise men appearing with sheep instead of gold, frankincense or myrrh, and shepherds arriving with cows, dogs and even an alligator as a last-minute substitute for the expected flock.

But the moment that sticks in my nostrils, as well as my mind, was when the audience noticed that the stable atmosphere was more realistic, or pungent, than usual. It became clear that Joseph, whose acting amounted to no more than a quick door knock and a long stand, had added his own liquid mark to proceedings.

Whether it was stage fright, sheer desperation or excitement at the coming of the saviour, we will never know. But as someone said when the deed was discovered, it was unforgettable and probably the most authentic-smelling stable scene. I'm sure even the baby Jesus wet himself occasionally as he went through whatever humiliations 1st-century Middle Eastern parents put their kids through in the name of religion or at the very least looking cute for the benefit of watching adults.

A GLASS BLOOPER - Kirsty Devaney, President of the Educational Institute for Scotland

I had just moved from a school in Forfar - a fairly rural area where pupils were biddable and so on - to a primary in Dundee that was quite a culture shock. It was 1979 and I was working at Greenfield Primary in Whitfield. The school was bursting at the seams and I had a Primary 7 class. Every year at Christmas I used to take a pantomime and tailor it to my class, mentioning their names and the local area - I even did them for my mother when she was a teacher. I was determined that, just because I had a difficult class, I would not abandon the tradition, and determined too not to say: "If you don't behave, we're not going to do it" (which was just as well because rehearsals were a nightmare - they had never done anything like it).

The pantomime was Cinderella, but there was one boy - the worst lad in class - for whom I could not think of a part. Eventually, his role became to hold the cushion with the glass slipper on it. During rehearsals he would never do it properly. We had a sandshoe as opposed to the real thing and he would say: "What a smell! I can't do it." But it all came good on the night - it was superb.


Ann Kay - Headteacher, Whitelees Primary, Cumbernauld

The nativity and Christmas show are important in every school and well-attended - there are usually more parents than seats. Every year you strive for perfection. Stress levels among staff are high and sleepless nights the norm. But on the night, it is the imperfections that make it a success. For instance, angels pushing and shoving each other to get the best spot on the stage; the shepherd that tries to trip Mary up with his crook; Joseph striding across the stage with his hands in his pockets; the inn-keeper who proudly announces that there is room at the inn, when the nativity hinges on the fact that there is not.

One year, we had a child dressed as a bear who put on his costume back-to-front - the head was on fine, but the tail was at the front and his feet were pointing in the wrong direction.

Parents love to see their weans on the stage and they don't mind the imperfections. The mistakes cause the laughter and that's what school shows are all about. We will have to remember that next year.


Mag Stewart - Headteacher, Muiredge Primary, Uddingston

Just this year, the nursery kids were being asked how people knew that Jesus was in the stable. Instantly, they all replied "Mrs Fuller", the music teacher who is well-known to the children from her work on the nativity. We knew she was held in high esteem, but hadn't anticipated she would rise to such a lofty level.

I suppose that at that stage in their lives, it makes as much sense that it would be Mrs Fuller as the Angel Gabriel who led the way to the baby Jesus. It's things like this that make Christmas so much fun - the funny tales you remember long afterwards.


Gordon Smith - Headteacher, Jordanhill Primary, Glasgow

I had just been appointed headteacher of a primary school in Easterhouse and I was invited to the local community centre in Balornock, where the schools put on a joint nativity production. What I didn't realise was that at the end of it a bonny baby competition was to be held. Myself, the local policeman, minister and priest were put up as the Aunt Sallies. It was the most frightening experience I've ever had: the mothers sitting in the front two rows staring at you, waiting for the judgment. Imagine having to tell a mother her baby is less attractive than the lady next door's. We were being put up to judge something that never should be judged. It was a community function, so I had to take part - but never again.

At my present school, the Primary 1s put on a nativity, which is always a wonderful experience. The church is quite large, but as soon as it is anything to do with nativity, you have parents standing in the aisles. It can be hard for the kids to remember their lines and the words to the songs when there are more cameras in the place than you would have on a major Hollywood production.

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