It started with a donkey – my acting career I mean – when I was about 5 or 6 years old. I loved it. Loved my homemade costume which was probably made out of a grey blanket, some papier mache ears and grey wellington boots, loved my nonspeaking part, loved being on stage, so much so that I refused to come off even when the curtain went down.
When the parts were announced, I was probably very jealous of the girl who had been chosen to be Mary and also anyone who had been chosen to be an Angel. My mum will have worked very hard to persuade me that actually the donkey was the best part you could possibly have in the Nativity and eventually I will have been convinced. What’s not to like about being a donkey, and who needs lines anyway…
Since then, I have attended many nativities, some as a proud and nervous nativity parent quietly cheering on an innkeeper, a soldier, a sheep and a star hoping that my similarly amateur costumes held together with Sellotape and a wing and prayer would stay in one piece for the duration of their performances.
I feel that the donkey is both the most important and the most overlooked animal in the nativity. Not just because that was my part. Let’s face it, who takes any notice of the donkey but let’s remember that it’s the donkey who carries Mary and her all important cargo, on that dusty road all the way to Bethlehem. Big Job. Meanwhile, it’s the wise men, the sheep, the shepherds, the innkeepers, Mary, Joseph and the baby who all hog the limelight. Whilst the sheep bleat on about how cold it is, the donkey does his job without so much as a grumble.
And whilst I am at it, I might as well tell you perhaps some little-known facts about donkeys…did I tell you why they were my favourite animal? They might be a tad stubborn, but they are far from stupid. I love donkeys because they are humble, simple, and gentle. They are social and intelligent sentient creatures who have a unique capacity to bond with each other and with humans. Their heart rates even synchronise with those with whom they come into contact. Donkeys bond with humans in an independent and intuitive way and their connection with people can be very powerful, both emotionally and physically. Maybe that’s why Mary rode so peacefully and calmly on a donkey in the nativity story.
…a very important animal then, not to be overlooked…
One of my favourite Christmas films is Nativity. It is a very funny film telling the story of a lovesick schoolteacher, Mr Madden, and a seemingly inept classroom assistant, Mr Poppy who pull together a quirky and diverse set of small children – amongst them TJ, Bob, Crystal, Alfie and Lucy – to perform a quite miraculous nativity which ends up involving live animals, including a donkey of course, a child suspended from a church spire (no risk assessment in that one) and Hollywood film producers flying in by helicopter to watch the performance. It is heart-warming, hilarious and joyful because of course at the end, the children grow in confidence and feel good about themselves, the lovesick Mr Madden gets his girlfriend back & the nativity show is fabulous.
So, which part did you play in the Nativity?
Mrs Williams was in a chorus of about 15 angels with no lines at all to say. She walked on, sat down, listened to everyone else, sang ‘little donkey’ and then walked off. Her second nativity was a real step up as she was promoted to the well-known speaking part of the innkeeper’s daughter.
Mrs Janes was an angel dressed in a white sheet whilst Mr Hastings was a shepherd playing a recorder in the acclaimed 1987 Hillcrest pre-prep nativity. That was the pinnacle of his nativity career having never even got a sniff of being a wise man, let alone Joseph.
On the other hand, our very own thespian Mr Moore was Joseph and Miss Egger also got the top job and played Mary when she was in her primary school nativity.
Mr Falvey was a King as was Mrs Collishaw who felt hard done by as she was always left giving myrrh when she wanted to give the gold.
Mr Mackenzie played the role of shepherd no.3, graduating to King Herod in Year 8 and Mr Lorimer and Mrs Seaman were wisemen.
The reason I love watching Nativity plays is because of the absolute unpredictability and natural enthusiasm of little children. They are not in the least bit fazed or self-conscious. They just embrace their part, and often that of others, with unbridled joy. They are not worried about forgetting their lines, they ride roughshod over any stage directions they might have been given and they sing with huge amounts of glee. They wave at their parents in the audience, they laugh at the silly bits, and they drift off every now and again into a daydream and miss their cue.
Sometimes I wish that we could all be little children again, lose our inhibitions, our self-consciousness, stop worrying and instead rekindle those joyful, liberating days of being young.
This Christmas, I hope that you will indulge your inner child, allow yourself to be joyful, to laugh and to celebrate the fun of Christmas. Whether you were a donkey, a sheep, a star or a king, allow yourself to go back to the feeling of magic that the Christmas Nativity brings.