In Christmas nativity plays, the lead roles go to the children with flaxen hair and fair skin

Tis the season to be Mary (but we don’t all get the chance)

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We can be fairly sure of one thing: Mary, the mother of Jesus, was not an Aryan blonde. But in nativity plays around the country, Mary almost always has flaxen hair and fair skin while dusky kids or those with dark hair are shepherds, sheep and goats. Even the preternaturally beautiful singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor (not a blonde) was never Mary.

But lucky, lucky Emilia Fox had the right look and did get picked. She has not forgotten: “It’s a role I remember as clear as day and I forget most roles I’ve done, so it must have been quite a defining moment in my acting career.” Yes must have. Look what a compelling actress she’s turned out to be. The same is true of other stars. Those early productions planted seeds in the children chosen to play the big parts. They went on to shine on stage and screens.

I still remember the scenes when our kids failed to get those. Both were only ever bit players or gentle beasts. Once my little boy had to hold a box for one shepherd, to say nothing, not even baa. He looked so bored, I thought he would just walk away. He should have. Everyone, high and low, seems to remember the Christmas play. But unlike Ms Fox not all the memories are fond or happy. Schools can really mess you up at Christmas, season of joy and disappointment.

Read more from Yasmin Alibhai-Brown here

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