In the first week of December, I received a Christmas gift which will have given me more joy than any material object I can imagine: a photograph of my three-year-old grandson James Carlos appearing as a shepherd in his nursery school Nativity play.
Sent electronically, the wonder in the child’s face transmitted to me a message of immense sweetness. And in a way, it could have been any child. Even though the kinship connection to James is obviously special to me, there is something suggesting hope, awe, promise and the light of the world in a young child’s face when involved in the Nativity story that I think would be meaningful to anyone.
The way in which his home-made keffiyeh – the Arab-type headdress worn by desert dwellers – is just slightly askew adds to the charm of the picture. And the young children around him come from a variety of multicultural backgrounds, all participating in this same lovely tradition of re-enacting the birth of Jesus.
As I have previously mentioned, I believe that the Christmas Nativity play is a key aspect of the experience of growing up in Britain today, as well as being an awakening element in the Christian story.
The Nativity play weaves together all nations – and all classes – in the narrative of a refugee family seeking shelter where their child can be born. It is both very old and very immediate. It is at the heart of the Christian story, but it is also at the heart of the human story.
A friend in Italy, who is not particularly religious and to whom I sent the picture, messaged back that it was welcome news that children in Britain are now allowed to have Nativity plays again. There was a time (and for some, it still applies) when it was considered an impolite imposition on those who were not Christian.
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