>Any room for Baby Jesus?


As I sat yesterday morning in the school hall, perched precariously on a tiny plastic chair with my knees in my armpits, eagerly awaiting the arrival of my youngest and her class mates onto the stage set ready for this year’s nativity play, I mused on the annual controversythis event in the primary school calender causes.

From informal conversations in the playground, I am fairly sure that the majority of parents in the audience would not be practising Christians. Although I know there were certainly Atheists, practicing Muslims and Pagans in the assembled parent body. Yet nobody voiced concerns that the nativity play was out of place in a school, may be offensive, or in anyway biased towards one interpretation of events (although I’m a little bit dubious that even Christians really believed there were dancing snowflakes and a talking rabbit at the crib-side).

Yet a few weeks ago, some members of the parent body had complained, as Christians, that they did not celebrate Halloween and they therefore re-named the ‘Halloween Disco’ to the ‘Autumn Festivals Disco’. (If they are objecting to the Pagan origins of the festival, perhaps they should look more closely at the origins of some of our other festivals now adopted by mainstream Christianity).

So – it got me thinking. Whilst adults are busy arguing over which festivals we should be allowed to ‘promote’ in the classroom, there is less debate going on about how we promote these festivals to young minds. As a non-Christian, I for example, have no objection to ‘the Christmas story’ as told in the nativity play, as long as it is presented as one version of many. I am more interested in my children having a broad education, and learning to be open minded, tolerant and curious about the world, rather than breeding in them the sort of knee-jerk reaction some people demonstrate to select aspects of their curriculum.

As a non-Christian, I thoroughly enjoyed the dancing snowflakes, the talking stars, the singing camels and the plastic Baby Jesus swung around by a four year old Mary more intent on waving at the audience than producing a convincing portrayal of a woman who may or may not have given birth to the Son of God.

Although in an ideal world I might prefer my kids to be learning about spirituality rather than religion, children do have an innate curiosity about what makes us all different, and what binds us together, and events like Christmas can help. I know that alongside participating in the nativity, my children are also learning about ‘Christmas around the world’ this term, and if we banned the nativity, surely we’d have to stop that too? And what sort of Christmas story would be left to tell then?

How do you think Christmas should be presented to children in schools?

Is there room for Baby Jesus?

Do we throw the baby out with the bathwater?

Or is there an alternative?

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4 Responses to >Any room for Baby Jesus?

  1. Michael says:

    >It seems that Christianity, or rather, purportedly Christian ways of knowing – things like charity, consideration for others, a reverence of the bible and the Christmas story – hold a scared position in the British Public consciousness. I think that it is this reverence which causes a lot of the problems regarding the introduction of pluralism into religious education.

    What I mean is that anything that is seen as non-Christian – whether it be explicitly atheist, or practices of different faiths – is seen as a threat to ‘traditional’ values. Christianity becomes synonymous with ‘traditional’. So I could envision a situation, for example, where British atheist parents might have no problem with their children taking part in a Christian service but might see their taking active part in a service of a different faith as a threat to ‘tradition’. I think that this points to a reframing of the debate as one not merely about religion, but one about the value we ascribe to the thing that we call ‘tradition’ in modern society.

    Maybe the knee jerk reactions of either banning the nativity service completely, or bemoaning the loss of it as something which is inherently part of our education system, are two opposite ends of a continuum: The complete erasure of what people see as ‘traditional’ in schools i.e. the nativity at one end, and the lust to recapture the ‘tradition’ that some people see as inherent in education/britishness etc at the other.

    Maybe the best thing is to recognize that Christianity, nor any religion is perfectly synonymous with tradition. To say that it is, is to deny the telling of other traditions which provide richness in learning and understanding and to say that it is categorically not, is to deny people one of the key things in their lives that they use as an anchor point between the past, present, and future generations.

    The only certain thing is that attitudes towards religion and tradition will vary wildly between different parts of the UK and amongst different groups of people. The sensible thing to do then, would be to ask the kids and possibly parents too. If we want to live in a community where other religions and traditions are respected and, more than that, play an active role in enriching our own lives, then discussing and consultation amongst different people who have a stake in the school must be a good thing. To take the decision away from people and arbitrarily impose either one faith/non-faith story for Christmas, or to ban any story from being told, is to take a very personal decision about faith and tradition away from the people who have an active role in deciding what tradition and faith mean to their children and to themselves.

  2. Sara says:

    >Wise words indeed, Michael. Tradition itself is such a contested notion, so this would open some interesting discussions for schools up and down the country, I’m sure!

    Thank you and welcome to the blog. I look forward to hearing your comments on other topics.

  3. The Magician says:

    >I was educated at a C of E school until I was 11, religion wasn’t shoved down our throats but with the village church about 100 yards away it was always there in one form or another. As a child, I loved taking part in the nativity, not for any religious reasons that I recall, but for the fact that I got to dress up. I have been, variously, a shepherd, wise man (bad choice, though I had an awesome turban held together with a black and red ‘snake’ belt), donkey, camel and ‘the narrator’. We loved it though as I say, I don’t think religious belief came anywhere near in those days.

    I do think that there should be a celebration at this time of the year. I go along a Pagan view on this as we have the shortest hours of daylight, Yule log, feasting, decoration etc. surely a time for celebration. The fact that Christians have hi jacked it doesn’t really bother me. The Christams Story is wonderful, AND a story. that should not be forgotten. If the nativity is banned, then should not all stories be banned, i.e. pantomines, which in themselves are based on stories, half truths, legends and the like.

    On the other hand… if the prissy n’ar do wells want to ‘ban’ Halloween and rename it, then perhaps we should rename this time of the year ‘the Winter festival’. It is apt, doesn’t cause any offence and gets straight to the point. But still it would lack something wouldn’t it?

    I think there is room for Baby Jesus and Halloween and Easter (which I am reliably told is NOT about stuffing your face with as much chocolate as you can!)

    May I take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy ‘whatever you believe in’ and a healthy, prosperous, safe and enlightening 2009.

    The Magician

  4. Sara says:

    >Hear hear! 🙂

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