| 7.2°C Belfast

Elvis and drunk spacemen in nativity tale make traditionalists feel unstable


A school nativity play

A school nativity play

Getty Images/iStockphoto

A school nativity play

The Christian I heard on the radio this week was outraged, because it seems about one-third of nativity plays in schools now deviate from the original story. "There's only one true story," she insisted, and she's right. Once you start mucking about with the facts of how a virgin had a baby, born with a halo and followed by men led to it by a magic star, you're in danger of making the whole thing seem silly.

It's like if, in 500 years' time, half the world worshipped the Roadrunner and some schools decided that for their annual festival they weren't going to stick to the tradition of the children tipping an anvil off a cliff that just missed a child running underneath, who then said, "Neep, neep" and all the others knelt down and said "Neep, neep, holy one" back, to celebrate such a miracle. It would be quite reasonable to scream that political correctness had gone mad.

Apparently, some nativity plays now include a drunk spaceman, or Elvis Presley, which annoys traditionalists who prefer sticking to real characters such as talking sheep.

But if the New Testament was rewritten in order to go, "And the Magi did look unto the child and bear unto him a gift of frankincense. And he did bow before him, and say unto Joseph, 'Since my baby left me, I found a new place to go. A huh-huh'. For he was kissed by Buzz Aldrin, who did rock uncontrollably with a bottle of cider and was sick upon the manger", within a year all Christians would insist they had to be in the nativity play to keep it sensible and traditional.

Some see this as one more attack by the metropolitan elite, determined to destroy Britain. And certain Right-wing newspapers put it in context, with headlines such as, "Now teachers insist on killing Jesus!" Next they'll explain how the inevitable consequence of this trend is the Queen will be forced to become a Hare Krishna, and every town will have to have their Christmas lights turned on by Abu Hamza, even if his metal hand shorts the fuses.

Then we'll hear how some schools in England have been forced to replace their nativity play with a nativity jihadist recruiting video, in which the children bring in swords, and look confused until you hear a teacher whispering, "It's your line, Nathan. Remember - 'Those who deny the Prophet will suffer in holy blood and anguish, let the mighty war begin.' Go on, I can see your dad watching."

In one production, it seems the Nativity was interpreted as an episode of The Apprentice, with one child playing the part of Lord Sugar. This is where Christians have more of a complaint, as Christianity would never have got started if Apprentice contestants had been near Bethlehem.

Daily Headlines & Evening Telegraph Newsletter

Receive today's headlines directly to your inbox every morning and evening, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

They'd all be stood outside the stable screaming at each other, "You said you were bringing the manger. Well, go back to Jerusalem and get it, it's not my job, I'm project leader. Oh s***, we've missed the Wise Men, now we're stuck with all this myrrh."

Eventually, any debate about nativity plays reaches the point where someone says, "But it's tradition." That's when it becomes a worry, because some religious people have used this argument before.

I'm sure, in 1610, there were priests saying, "It's all very well promoting these modern ways of entertaining the village, but hanging a witch at Christmas is tradition. Families would walk up the hill together with a boiled turnip and cheer old Mr Mulligan the executioner, then when the wriggling and writhing stopped we'd walk back for mince pies. That was when Christmas was Christmas."

Perhaps the rule with nativity plays should be that anyone who thinks they matter shouldn't be allowed to have anything to do with them. Because when schools try to think of modern inclusive versions, they get in even more of a pickle.

Kids end up with lines such as, "All rejoice for a King is born, though it is equally acceptable to rejoice upon the birth of a democracy, which in its purest sense requires no monarch, indeed can not permit one, whether he can turn water into wine or not."

Maybe the humanists and atheists who campaign against any Christianity in school overestimate the power of religion. I remember having to say prayers at school, with words such as "O glorious Lord God who created everything, if I have the sheer insolence to doubt you for a second I wouldn't blame you if you inflicted jolts of screaming, agonising pain across my kidneys - really sharp ones that made me cry, for 500 years, because thou art the best God ever, Amen." But we'd mumble and giggle and make up our own words, so at some level we must have known it was twaddle even though we were eight.

Even so, maybe one year there should be a rule that all schools have to put on an atheist nativity play. So the annoying smart kids will run home yelling "Mummy, daddy, mummy - guess what? I've been picked to play the fossil of a pterodactyl!"

And, across the country, parents will video their kids mumbling, "It - is - truly a, truly a wonder, for a chimpanzee is born. Let us celebrate the, the, celebrate the evolutionary process", then dissect a frog to study its organs while everyone sighs "Aaaagh".

Top Videos