Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Memories of Bethlehem: Why the story of the Nativity continues to give us joy today

Pupils at MacDuff Primary School have been rehearsing for their school Nativity. Picture by Chris Sumner.
Pupils at MacDuff Primary School have been rehearsing for their school Nativity. Picture by Chris Sumner.

“It was on a starry night, when the hills were bright.

“Earth lay sleeping, sleeping calm and still.”

It has been at least 20 years since the opening chords rang out in my primary school gym hall and we stared out at a sea of expectant faces.

Parents crouched on tiny chairs, their eyes suspiciously damp as the familiar story came to life.

This was no West End performance, Baby Jesus was being handled a bit roughly, and there was only one angel due to an outbreak of chicken pox.

These pupils at MacDuff Primary School are almost ready to perform their Nativity show. Picture by Chris Sumner.

The shepherds got that look from the head teacher as their tea-towel-clad heads bobbed in hilarity, and the wise men were not so wise after forgetting the myrrh.

But when it was finally time to take a bow, my goodness we were proud.

Grandparents staggered to their feet in applause, each family insistent that they had never seen a more convincing donkey, Joseph or Gabriel.

Our little faces beamed with pride, it was the same every year.

Performing the nativity is surely a childhood rite of passage, a memory which shapes the early years and is talked about for years to come.

My four-year-old son will perform in his Nativity for the first time this year, and has treated us to very enthusiastic renditions of the songs we can expect.

There is every possibility that I will weep my way through the performance, partly in the hope that the dressing gown chord stays secure around that blessed tea towel.

Costumes have evolved over the years, as proven by these three shepherds at MacDuff Primary School.

Regardless of your beliefs, the Nativity cannot fail to uplift you and it has been adapted in increasingly whacky ways over the years.

Some critics argue that it simply isn’t relevant to modern-day life, given dwindling numbers in church congregations and the varied religions which can be found in classrooms up and down the country.

That does not mean to say that the story of a miraculous birth against the odds cannot resonate with many, whether you identify with the message of persecution or the heartache of weary travellers.

There is also the aching sense of nostalgia, although I am still bitter that my sister played Mary while the closest I got to fame was the lacklustre role of sleeping guest at the inn.

The story of the Nativity still has the power to move people today. Picture supplied by Shutterstock.

I’ll have my moment one day, but in the meantime, I caught up with people across the north-east for whom the Nativity will always hold a special place in their heart.

If you’ve ever watched the musical comedy Nativity, you’ll know the story can take many an interesting turn when mixed with some more modern elements.

The far-fetched yet popular film ultimately proves that when people pull together, they can create something both weird and wonderful.

Head teacher Helen James: ‘The Nativity is magical’

Although MacDuff Primary School didn’t quite go the whole hog and call in Hollywood, their performance last year certainly got some attention.

Head mistress Helen James suggested to fellow teacher Gordon McKay that they could perhaps perform on his farm, but she never expected it to become such an impressive reality.

Reverend Hugh O’Brien addressed the crowd at this unusual Nativity show, held by MacDuff Primary School last year. Picture by Jason Hedges.

The reverend was even hoisted up in the air by a tractor to address the audience, but the ultimate star of the show was a real-life donkey called Dora – who of course appeared during a sterling rendition of Little Donkey.

The plans are a touch more traditional this year, but Helen is passionate that each and every child gets the chance to make memories.

“I have been a head teacher for quite a long time now, and a teacher for even longer,” said Helen.

“I just adore the Nativity, I can hear them singing in rehearsal from my office.

“The sound of joy, it’s beautiful.

Children of MacDuff Primary School performed on a farm in 2021. Picture by Jason Hedges.

“I don’ really understand how people could not want to carry on in this job; if you do something else you’ll never hear that lovely sound.

“Our performance last year was made possible because one of our teachers, Mr McKay, is a farmer.

“The idea was to perform the Nativity on his farm, and the concept just grew arms and a donkey.

“There is something magical about this school, everyone has been enthusiastic and wants to do something that will be really good for the children.

“The donkey idea was put forward by one of our pupil support assistants.

Dora the donkey made things extra magical for MacDuff Primary School pupils. Picture by Jason Hedges.

“We decided not to tell the children that it was actually going to happen, we hammed it up for weeks.

“It became this big thing where of course I said don’t be so ridiculous, we are not having a donkey.

“The children wrote these persuasive letters, so when the donkey did in fact make an appearance, it demonstrated the power of persuasion.

“There was some sneaky learning going on.”

Dora the donkey had a calming effect on some of the shy members of the cast, and the pupils of course still talk about the experience today.

Helen has chosen to keeps things traditional this year, in a bid to teach p1-p3 what the Nativity is all about.

“Our little toots have never been involved before, and due to the pandemic even our p3s have never stood on a stage,” said Helen.

Head teacher Helen James, pictured with some of the cast in rehearsal for the Nativity show this year, at MacDuff Primary School. Picture by Chris Sumner.

“I am not particularly religious, but I think the key message is love and giving gifts for the right reasons.

“These are really important values which come across so beautifully.

“Of course for the parents, it’s completely magical.

“If you don’t cry, we’re aiming for a few tears at least.

“When the angels sing Away in a Manger, that’s such a goosebump moment.”

Helen believes the message of giving is more important than ever in the face of the cost of living crisis.

Joseph gives Baby Jesus a quick check over at MacDuff Primary School. Picture taken by Chris Sumner.

“This is about coming together, not material things,” she said.

“We’ve been careful what we ask parents for in these difficult times.

“We’ve also made sure that everyone has been given a role which they feel comfortable with.

“Some pupils really don’t want to stand at the front, for example.

“If you are a bit shy, perhaps you can be a shepherd or an angel; we ask our pupils to volunteer for things.

“It’s about the memories and a passion for lifelong learning.

Helen James believes the Nativity remains a magical story, as proven by these youngsters in rehearsal at MacDuff Primary School. Picture by Chris Sumner.

“If you think back to primary school memories, the Nativity will be right up there.

“It’s about bringing back the magic both for the children and their parents.

“If you’ve not stood on the stage with a tea towel on your head, it’s a rite a passage.”

Youth and children’s worker Matt Sinar: ‘The secret is to have fun’

For youth and children’s worker Matt Sinar, the secret to the Nativity is to have fun.

Based within Fetteresso Parish Church on Bath St in Stonehaven, he has been helping put together a Nativity show for the past decade.

It’s an unusual choice given that Matt studied economics at Newcastle University, but having been involved in church all his life, the call of youth work was far more appealing.

Matt Sinar has been leading the way with the Nativity story at Fetteresso Parish Church for the past decade. Picture by Darrell Benns.

The Nativity is approached a little differently by the enthusiastic congregation, and Matt also made use of technology during the pandemic to keep the story alive.

“There used to be a fairly standard Nativity play, where we’d find a script and spend four to five weeks drilling the kids,” said Matt, who has two young children.

“It would dominate Sunday School, but it reached a point where it took so much effort and everyone involved in Sunday School was a volunteer.”

Matt was inspired by his sister, who was involved with a church in Lancaster which performed a scratch Nativity.

The beauty of a scratch Nativity is the fact it requires little rehearsal, with everyone invited along to dress up as a character.

“The narrator tells the story, and everyone comes along as whoever they want,” said Matt.

“So quite often, we’ll have 24 Marys.

“Although one year a boy came dressed as Herod, that was interesting.

“It’s really good fun; the first year we didn’t know how it would be received by older members of the congregation or how they would engage with it.”

“It was a pleasant surprise, it was great to have people of all ages come together.

“From my perspective, in previous years it felt like the kids were on stage which was great for parents and grandparents.

“But my idea of church is that it is for all ages to take part.

“If you have everyone watching the kids, it’s not quite tokenistic but we should be inclusive of all generations.

“Some members of the congregation who you might not expect, they really went to town.”

Matt believes that both old and young can get involved with Nativity performances. Picture by Darrell Benns.

But what is it about the Nativity which has enabled it to stand against a vastly changed society across the decades?

“Everyone likes the Nativity,” said Matt.

“Jesus coming as this unexpected King, it’s at the heart of so many movie scripts.

“This format where there is a prophecy about a saviour.

“It’s the inclusivity of who turns up; the rich men from afar and the scruffy shepherds.”

Matt has even taken the Nativity on the road, or should we say street, after putting together a Nativity trail last year.

“We have various families who live in various parts of Stoney,” said Matt.

“We filmed video scenes on their doorsteps, going from door to door asking what had happened.

“It was challenging, we filmed the angels in howling wind and rain.

“You could scan QR codes for each scene and eventually end up at church.

“I think fun is at the heart of it, and that’s really important when teaching the next generation about faith.

“The story lends itself to it as well, there’s so many twists and surprises.”

Sunday School teacher Kathleen Gunn: ‘The nativity will always be so important’

Former Sunday School teacher Kathleen Gunn believes there will always be a place for the Nativity.

Now a grandmother, she is still very much involved with the church and has fond memories of the Nativities she helped to put on over the years.

Kathleen Gunn, pictured with her grandchild and husband, Saville. Kathleen believes the Nativity is still important today.

“I think even non-Christians have a smile when they see the Baby Jesus in the manger,” said Kathleen, who lives in Inverurie.

“It is the innocence of it.

“I can remember I was Angel Gabriel when I was at school; there was always a fight to see who would be Mary.”

For Kathleen, the Nativity plays a key role during Christmas and the countdown of Advent.

“It is hugely important to the Christian church,” she said.

“Taking the Christian out of Christmas, I find that quite sad.

“Of course there is the element of presents, but that can be found in the Nativity because Jesus is given presents.

“This the first coming, the birth of Jesus.”

Far from vying for a traditional Nativity, Kathleen has taken part in a rather modern take on the story.

“There was one year I was a spaceman, I remember that,” she said.

“Traditional or non-traditional, it’s just so enjoyable.”