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My daughter’s first nativity went exactly to – and completely against – plan

I don’t like theatre. And yet, give my four-year-old nine words in a 25-minute whiz through the birth of Jesus and I am hooked

Colin Drury
Saturday 17 December 2022 14:05 GMT
Stunning nativity scene made with sand on Northumberland beach

It was my eldest’s first nativity this week and, as you’ll imagine, I was proud as punch to find she’d been cast in that well-known nativity role of, er, “mum (number two)”.

I’m not one for stage shows as a general rule. I can never escape the feeling the people performing are having more fun than those watching. I don’t get the theatre. I don’t think I was born with that gene. I sit there every time hoping it’ll be over for last orders.

And yet, give my four-year-old nine words in a 25-minute whiz through the birth of Jesus and I am, as it turns out, in the queue outside the school hall so early that even passing year 6s are rolling their eyes at me. So be it. Just one more character trait smashed on the rocks of parenthood.

But yes, that’s right: nine words. She had a full line of dialogue, no less! A key one too, I submit; both crucial to driving the narrative forward and pivotal in establishing the high drama that followed. “First of all,” she had to say, “there was a girl called Mary.”

Well, now. This was big stuff (was it not?). Introducing the very Madonna herself. Here was a speech (nine words) that needed to foretell all the trauma and redemption and toddlers dressed as donkeys that were to come. Daniel Day-Lewis himself could not have asked for a meatier part.

Her mother looked at me as I opined all this in the queue. Who’s playing the innkeeper, she asked, because I think I need a drink. Brutal.

She was great, our little one, but so were all of them. Great and joyous and absolutely chaotic. At times I’m not sure who had less idea what was going on, them or us. A critic might suggest that if you hadn’t known the source material, you’d have struggled to keep abreast of the plot. There were lines shouted, lines whispered and lines forgotten; there were waves to the audience mid-scene and cues missed. I’m still none the wiser as to why our own little mum number two was dressed in her pyjamas and dressing gown for it all. But magnificent anyway.

Here’s a thing I wasn’t expecting, though: how I’m sitting in this little school suddenly remembering my own first nativity half a lifetime ago. Not the big bits. Not the fact I was a shepherd or that I had to wear a blue and white tea towel on my head. But fragments of nothing moments I didn’t even realise were still there, tucked away, in the corners of my cortex.

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Like how I’d never seen so many grown-ups as when I walked on to stage that evening; how afterwards Mrs Bennet gave us all a Rich Tea biscuit and plastic beaker of Ribena and told us we’d been brilliant; how my mum and I walked home in the dark afterwards, me clutching a plastic bag with my tea towel in it; how we stopped off at the bottom shop for something or other and the old lady there beamed as she asked – in second-language English – how it had gone; how she gave me some bubbles to say well done. I wonder if she and Mrs Bennett could have ever imagined they were embedding themselves forever into my being. I sit in this school hall and wonder: did I say thank you?

I don’t know. I find this happens a lot as a parent. Your kid does or says something that plugs you directly into your own childhood; they’re little science-fiction creatures hurtling you around your past while simultaneously zooming you into the future.

And, so, I look at them all on stage, 40 or 50 four and five-year-olds, and I can’t help but think: which tiny unimportant bits of today – of all these early days – will be etched into you? I hope they all have childhoods filled with Rich Tea biscuits and bubbles.

Anyway. All that from a nativity, my partner asks, as we walk out afterwards. Aye, and done in time for last orders too.

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