Has Covid killed off the traditional nativity play?

Some of Cromer Junior School's nativity characters, who starred in production staged at Cromer paris

Norfolk schools are again having to be creative on how they host nativities - Credit: Archant

It is a time-honoured tradition which turns parents into beaming audience members as their children, dressed as shepherds, wise men and donkeys, act out the most recognisable of tales.

But for the second year in a row, schools are having to adapt and innovate to ensure their Christmas nativities can go ahead, with the pandemic continuing to force them into difficult decisions over the plays.

Although restrictions elsewhere are now few and far between, the virus is still prevalent. And with particular concern focused on its spread among children schools across the region are largely continuing to take a cautious approach.

Instead of the traditional Christmas ritual of inviting parents into halls and auditoriums to watch performances, many schools are opting to film the plays and them provide parents with the means of watching them at home.

Cast members in Sutton Infant School's Born in Barn nativity.

Cast members in Sutton Infant School's Born in Barn nativity. - Credit: Sutton Infant School

Others have decided to adapt performances so they can take place in the outdoors, including replacing the productions with playground carol singing and similar offerings.

Rebecca Newman, executive head at Easton, Hockering and Great Witchingham primary schools, said the schools would be recording performances for parents to watch at home, but that it had been a difficult decision to make.

Acting head teacher Rebecca Newman with pupils at Hockering Primary School after achieving a good of

Rebecca Newman, headteacher of Easton, Hockering and Great Witchingham primary schools Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

"We had been wrestling with what to do for a few weeks," she said. "But in the end, we decided it was probably best not to invite parents into the school in numbers - and I'm not sure they'd all want to come in anyway."

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One school that is currently planning to go ahead with its nativity performance in front of an audience is Thomas Bullock Church of England Primary  Academy, in Shipdham, but a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Norfolk Education and Academies Trust said it was "most likely" to be held outside.

Coronavirus cases in Norfolk are "stabilising", according to the county's director of public health,

Coronavirus cases in Norfolk are "stabilising", according to the county's director of public health, Dr Louise Smith. Picture: Ella Wilkinson - Credit: Archant

Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk's director of public health, welcomed the cautionary approach.

"I think approaches will have to depend on the individual circumstances of each school - for example a small school with a small number of parents in a large setting would safer than large gatherings," she said.

"The guidance we are giving schools though is that we are keen for teaching to be face to face as much as possible, so to think carefully about the impact on this additional things like nativities could have. Going online with these things or holding events outdoors is definitely sensible."

What is your school doing?

Sheringham Primary school Christmas angels. Picture: KAREN BETHELL

Sheringham Primary school Christmas angels. Picture: KAREN BETHELL - Credit: Archant

Some examples of the different approaches being taken across the region are as follows:

  • Arden Grove Infant School and Nursery in Hellesdon has planned class carol singing in front of socially distances audiences outdoors
  • Burnham Market Primary School is recording its nativity in school and sharing the video with parents
  • Garrick Green Infant School is filming Reception children singing Christmas songs while dressed in nativity costumes. Staff shortages have led to the Year 1 performance being postponed.
  • Lodge Lane Infant School in Old Catton will sing carols on the playground and film a live performance
  • Open Academy in Norwich is hosting a carol concert
  • Whitefriars Church of England Primary Academy in King's Lynn is filming its nativity and its Christmas carol service - making both available online.

What do parents think?

Youngsters from Oulton Broad Primary school take part in a special Nativity and Christmas Carol serv

Youngsters from Oulton Broad Primary school take part in a special Nativity and Christmas Carol service at St Michael's Church. - Credit: Nick Butcher

The prospect of nativities not being held in their traditional format has sparked a range of emotions from parents.

Scores of people responded to a post on our Facebook page asking whether they feel they should go ahead.

Tracy Lynch wrote: "Children's lives have been disrupted far too much - nativity plays should go ahead."

Nichola Cowell said: "With [lateral] flow tests, yes."

Robert Buxton said: "Schools need to just get on with normal activities."

Danika Shepherd said: "Why has it always got to be the kids that lose out when bars, clubs, football stadiums and flights can happen?"

Stacey Blyth said she favoured performances going ahead, but suggested restrictions like limiting audience numbers and encouraging mask-wearing.

But Louise Forester wrote: "Sorry folks, having more people in school is not helping keep infections down."

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