It seems the Christmas nativity play is coming under threat in the United Kingdom as teachers unions in Northern Ireland defend the modernization of nativity plays and telling “alternative” Christmas stories instead of the traditional biblical version.
In Ireland 80 percent of schools put on a Nativity play every Christmas but they admit that the sweet tradition of angels dressed in pillow cases with a tinsel crown and fights over who’ll play the Blessed Mary have changed.
Thing in the UK seem more drastic. A survey found that most British children believed that Jesus is a soccer player from the team Chelsea and Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer was in the stable in Bethlehem. Fifty percent of 12-year-olds thought December 25 was “Father Christmas’ birthday” and one third thought Jesus was born in the South Pole.
Somewhere along the line the message of Christmas and nativity play has gotten lost.
In Northern Ireland it’s not only the traditional array of characters being replaced by Chris de Burgh’s spaceman and an Elvis-style King Herod. The traditional “Away in a Manger” and religious carols are getting the heave-ho in favor of festive pop songs or the complete soundtrack from “Frozen.”
Avril Hall Callaghan, General Secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union, defended Northern Ireland’s schools and teachers. She maintains they’re trying to tap into the children’s imaginations.
She told the UTV “Every parent wants to see their child on the stage.
“And if they're not playing one of the traditional principal roles, then teachers have to find them another - be it a firefly, a punk fairy or an Elvis-style King Herod."
She added that those who criticize the fact that Christianity is being shunned by schools are “out of touch with the reality of a multi-faith classroom in Northern Ireland.”
Hall Callaghan said "It is increasingly multi-cultural and because of that, all our children now have the chance to get to get to know, understand and respect traditions and lifestyles which, a generation ago, would not largely have been possible.
"By law, the curriculum is rooted in Christianity - but it also teaches children about other faiths and schools now often mark festivals like Diwali or Eid, and that is only but right if our children are to gain a respect for their migrant neighbors.
"It is often ignorance which fuels fear of other religions - and that leads to bigotry and discrimination."
In the Republic of Ireland the nativity play has proven to be more resilient. Although Ireland’s schoolchildren are growing in diversity the Christmas play is more popular than ever according to the Irish Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN).
Spokesperson Larry Flemming told the Irish Independent “We may have thrown off a lot of our religious values, but if anything it is growing in popularity.
However they do admit that the traditional plot is being altered mainly to make sure that all 30 children in the class get to have a role.
In fact there was talk of dragons in the Manger, four wise men, and the admittance that a typical ploy is to tell the tale like a news report. For example, “And now we go over live to Bethlehem where our reporter St Luke is standing by…. Can you hear me, Luke?"
In many cases it is the children that interpret or modernize the story themselves but what about getting the story of the birth of Christmas right. Or does it matter?
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