O little town with no primary school

19th December 2003 at 00:00
On the road to Bethlehem, the three kings stop off at the post office. The woman at the counter smiles at them. "It's nice to have three kings in Bethlehem," she says.

The king in the purple crown looks at her earnestly. "We're not the real ones," he whispers. Holding up the bar of gold he is carrying, he continues conspiratorially: "And this isn't real gold. It's a shampoo bottle."

Then he and his companions continue down the road, towards Ffairfach primary, where Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus are waiting for them to join the school nativity. The Magi, bearing their gifts of personal hygiene, may not be authentic. But their pilgrimage is genuine: they are walking down the road to Bethlehem. Ffairfach primary, in Carmarthenshire, sits on the corner of Bethlehem Road. At the Torbay Inn across the road, there are no rooms vacant.

Four miles from the school lies the little town of Bethlehem, Carmarthenshire: a collection of stone houses, some outlying farms, and a small post office. In January 2001, the six-pupil Bethlehem primary closed its doors for the last time. Now, seven primary-aged pupils have to travel down Bethlehem Road to Ffairfach to school.

Steffan Jones, eight, dressed in a crown and carrying myrrh, said: "If the three kings came to Bethlehem in Wales by mistake, they'd speak funny, and they'd have the wrong money for the shops. And they would spend a very long time looking for baby Jesus."

Sean Rickman, 10, insists that there are certain similarities between the two towns: people in biblical Bethlehem herded sheep, as does his father.

But, he said, Jesus's life would have been significantly different had he been born in Carmarthenshire: "He would have been born in a shed, not a stable. He would have gone to chapel, instead of the temple. And the three kings would have come from Cardiff."

Meinir Morgan, Ffairfach's head, said: "Some children have misconceptions that baby Jesus was born in the town up the road," she said. "I'm going to bring it into the geography curriculum, comparing the two localities.

Bethlehem in Israel is so, so different.

But when it comes up in carols, I still feel a little pride in our own Bethlehem."

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