Three wise kings and a zebra

4th December 1998 at 00:00
Not to mention Mary and Jeff. Some mistake there? Not at Philip Jones' school

Christmas is in full swing. The nursery is filled with the jingle of sleigh bells and the scrunch of glitter underfoot. The adults, having seen and heard it all before, go through the motions and resolutely try to radiate seasonal goodwill.

To the children, all is new and remarkable. The Christmas story has them wide-eyed.

Recalling it later, some of these three and four-year-olds are distinctly hazy about the details. Others cast a fresh light on theological matters. One insists the baby born in the stable is called Jenny; the equal opportunities policy is clearly paying off. Another claims to have seen "zebras" in the stable. I make a mental note to have his eyesight checked.

When it comes to the three kings, there are plenty of suggestions as to the gifts they brought. Oddly, none of the three-year-olds opts for gold, frankincense or myrrh. The consensus of opinion is that a teddy bear is more appropriate. The kings can't have been that wise, then.

Joseph's name is inexplicably hard for any of the children to remember. One thinks the parents are called Mary and Jeff. Another suggests Mary and Georgie (Whay ay, bonny lass, there's nae beds in this toon).

Angels are another tricky phenomenon to explain. "What do you think this is?" we ask, pointing to an illustration. "I know'', comes a confident reply. We breathe a sigh of relief. Tell us then. "It's a flying baby''.

We move on to consider the parts that children would like to play in the Nativity. As ever, to be a sheep is the dream of each aspiring young actor. I recall last year's Mary, wailing because she had to wear a blue dress instead of the coveted fleece, and her mother's less than charitable response: "You're going to be Mary or I'll bloody throttle yer."

Fortunately, this year there is a spread of preferences. It looks as if we'll be able to put a convincing cast together for the big day. It might however, be slightly awkward to accommodate the wish of one child to be "the lollipop lady''. Has she perhaps been led astray by the earlier talk of zebras and made a mental leap back to our road safety topic? Thinking about it, maybe it's not such a bad idea. With all those donkeys and camels around, the streets of Bethlehem must have been pretty busy. Shepherds, angels and lollipop lady it is then.

Pausing only to quash the rumour that Mary slept on the table because there were no beds ("Actually it was a stable - a sort of garage for cows"), the story is brought to a conclusion. Despite the tinges of heresy, I feel that telling the Christmas story yet again has somehow refreshed it. Cliche has certainly been left far behind. I head back towards the sponge printing with a spring in my step. I might even be able to manage a ho-ho-ho if this continues.

Philip Jones is the teacher in charge of the nursery at Newby first school, Bradford

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