Just one in three schools now hold traditional Christmas nativity plays, despite the majority of parents wanting their children to learn about the birth of Jesus. Instead, more than half of schools have opted for modernised versions, featuring aliens, punk fairies, spacemen and Elvis. Seven percent have shunned the term ‘nativity play’, opting instead for ‘winter celebration’ or simply the ‘end of term concert’.
The figures were revealed in a poll by parenting site Netmums, which surveyed 2,157 members. It found that 32 percent of schools hold traditional nativities, whilst 48 percent have opted for a modern spin. Parents reported characters including aliens, recycling bins, punk fairies, Elvis, footballers, a lobster, a napkin, carrots, sprouts, a pumpkin and a drunken spaceman all popping up, the Mail has reported.
Other schools have taken inspiration from television culture, with some parents telling of ‘Apprentice style’ plays, featuring Lord Christmas taking the place of Father Christmas, who doesn’t appear in the biblical version anyway.
Amongst parents whose schools did not hold a nativity play, 65 percent would like to see them do so, whereas just 22 percent felt that it was unimportant. A further 12 percent planned to teach their children about Christmas at home.
Meanwhile, one in 100 schools incorporated aspects of other religious festivals such as Eid, Diwali and Chanukah into their Christmas nativities, whilst one in ten eschewed any play whatsoever. The poll also found that Christmas carols are on the wane.
Netmums co-founder Siobhan Freegard said: “While the UK is a diverse and multicultural society and it’s right children learn about all religions and cultures, many parents feel the traditional nativity is being pushed aside.
“It seems wrong to bombard kids with commercial messages about presents and Santa without them realising the true meaning of the celebration.
“This study shows many parents who aren’t religious look to the nativity as a comforting part of the Christmas celebrations and want their school to embrace and celebrate it, rather than make up a version with perhaps less resonance for kids.
“Christmas is about peace, acceptance and tolerance, so let’s see more schools accept back this tradition.”
However, not all Christians were against the demise of the traditional version. Writing on the Archbishop Cranmer blogsite, Gillian Scott commented “I’ve sat through […] Christmas with the Aliens, and it’s actually quite good. At our local school the youngest children have a traditional Nativity, but after that, to avoid repetition, embarrassment and boredom, they get a whole lot more interesting and complex.
“Christmas with the Aliens is a full-blown musical with extensive dialogue and, in our case, some really impressive props. We’ve also had other versions entitled Prickly Hay and A Midwife Crisis.
All of these have been written by a Christian company called Out of the Ark. Rather than watering down the Christmas story they actually do the opposite, explaining it all in quite a missional way as the characters seek to learn about the meaning behind the events they are witnessing.
“Sadly, these days a significant proportion of children have little understanding of any religion, including Christianity, and these plays do a great job of helping those with minimal knowledge both to understand the significance of the birth of Jesus and to grasp its relevance to us all right now. This sort of production is going to be infinitely more engaging for an eight- year-old Year 4 boy or girl than a stodgy and limp version of the ‘actual’ Nativity.
“What is more concerning is the growing number of schools who are producing a multicultural mash-up, chucking in bits of different religions to appease everyone, but by doing so please nobody. Even worse are the secularist versions entitled ‘Winter Celebrations’ and so on, which suck out all references to Jesus leaving an empty, vacuous shell.”