‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year’
Ah, Christmas. Picture if you will a warm, cosy family scene around a large dining table that is groaning with food. Everyone is smiling or laughing, the conversation is flowing freely and with much agreement or good-natured debate that no-one at any point takes too seriously. This is the Christmas we are sold by TV adverts and the like. It’s fake, phoney and completely misses the point! God did not, last I checked, send his son into the world so that we could all have perfect families unspoilt by betrayal, selfishness and death. Well, it’s true that Jesus taught us how to live in a selfless, life giving way but when it comes to celebrating Christmas, if that’s all we’re looking for we are missing the whole point.
The Christmas story features a huge amount of uncertainty and fear, families at odds with each other, long journeys, an unmarried pregnant young woman, her partner who has only latterly agreed to stand with her and very little food or drink.
No gathering around tables in a warm glow while it’s cold outside, no easy flowing conversation, and definitely no crackers, gifts or Christmas tree!
Of course, it’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong in crackers, gifts and trees. But it gets harder every year, it seems, to go up against the giants of Asda, John Lewis or Marks and Spencer’s view of Christmas. Fewer and fewer children and young people in our schools take part in a nativity or play or carol service, but those that do are often taking part in something that doesn’t actually tell the story as it is told in the gospels. Most of us would agree there were no sea creatures in attendance at the birth of Jesus (to reference that totally up-to-date, on-the-pulse film Love Actually, 2003, ahem!) but would we notice that’s there’s no actual mention of a donkey in the gospel accounts? Or innkeeper? Now, some would say that a traditional nativity with a donkey, an innkeeper, 3 Kings and a crib scene including shepherds, angels, farm animals and 3 kings was entitled to use poetic licence to include as many children as would like to part (enter stage left a lobster and an octopus). And of course they would be right! But at some point in their school life our children and young people probably ought to be taught the actual story as it is told mostly in Luke’s gospel and as schools workers we have an ideal opportunity to present them with something that dispels the myths of Christmas.
There are organisations who run Christmas events – Scripture Union have produced resources including Christmas Unwrapped, a 90 minute fast moving, interactive presentation for older primary school pupils. It’s a fantastic resource and I would urge you to look it up to see if that would work in your schools. Here’s one activity from that presentation which you could use to build a ‘Dispelling the Myths of Christmas’ session, plus a couple of other ideas:
Christmas card activity
We all know someone who doesn’t throw cards away don’t we? There will be someone in your church who has kept their old Christmas cards, there may even be more than one person! Ask around and gather bundles of cards together. Otherwise you might buy a couple of multipacks of 30 cards; if you’re using old cards you may want to just use the fronts. Divide your group into 4s and give them each a bundle of cards. They have to pick out the cards which have something to do with the story of Jesus’ birth. You could rig this so that every bundle of cards has one or two that depict the nativity or part of it, or you could leave it to chance. Give 5mins for them to look, you might want to walk around while they are discussing to ensure they’re on task and have got the instructions right. Then ask someone from each group to tell the whole group what they found. The link could be fairly tenuous: sparkles could represent the star, presents may represent the 3 gifts from the wise men etc.
As an adaptation to this activity – which could work for secondary or for a longer session in primary: give them card and craft materials in pencils and pens for colouring and ask pupils to create their own Christmas card that shows an aspect of the story of the birth of Jesus. You could have some stencils or examples handy for those that are not too artistic!
You can find alternative activities at flamecreativekids.blogspot.co.uk – this website is a wealth of resources all through the church year!
‘Re-Tooning the Nativity’ is a video by Igniter Media which does an excellent job of retelling the traditional Nativity story. It’s narrated by a guy who sounds like Pa Leek from Veggie Tales, but don’t let that put you off! You can view it on Youtube, and it’s also available to download from ignitermedia.com (search ‘Re-tooning’) for use in school.
Christmas in a sack
Gather up some Christmas props and put them in a large bag: baubles, tinsel, crackers, party hat, reindeer antlers, a wrapped box, a baby doll, animals, candy canes (you could also put in some more obscure items like a hurricane lamp, a sheep, and a horse and cart (in miniature!) to throw the pupils off the scent) etc. Ask for 2 volunteers and get them to pull things out of the sack while the rest guess what the theme or connection is. Ask if they know which elements appear in the story of Jesus’ birth. For older pupils you could divide the group into two teams and the first team to guess wins. In this case you might want to rig it so the more obscure items emerge first!
Find as many wear-able Christmas items as you can and put them on: Christmas jumper, tinsel, earrings, antlers, Santa hat. Ask your group to guess what you’re going to talk about today! Have a Power Point presentation which shows pictures of a donkey, a baby in a cot, an innkeeper, 3 Kings, and a full nativity scene. Ask your group how these pictures fit in with what you’re wearing.
Ask your group what their favourite Christmas film is. You’re likely to get Elf, The Grinch, Miracle on 34th Street, Arthur Christmas, The Polar Express – all of which you should check out by the way! Then ask if any of them know the story of the birth of Jesus, tell them it’s more commonly called the nativity (there is a small chance they’ve seen the film The Nativity) and ask if anyone has been in a nativity play – which part did they play? Have a discussion about this but try not to give anything away.
Recite these words, invite the pupils to join you in the reflection by bowing their heads and keeping quiet.
‘Let us take time to be aware that in the midst of our very busy preparations for the celebration of Christmas that it is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Jesus is born into our own homes and daily lives whenever we remember this is what we are celebrating. Take time, slow down, be still, be awake to the Divine Mystery that looks so common and ordinary and yet is wonderfully present.’
From Take Time to be Aware – Edward Hays, A Pilgrim’s Almanac p196
For some of your activities it would be good to have something to give the pupils to take home. There are a huge variety of these available from many different places, just be sure they tell the actual story not the ‘nativity’ version! My recommendation for 7-11 yr olds would be ‘Diary of a Disciple’ by Gemma Willis as this is Luke’s Gospel told in a contemporary style.
You ought to be able to use the elements above in various different combinations depending on what you’ve been invited to do in your school. I’ve given you some ideas below:
In Primary Schools:
10min assembly: Wearing Christmas; ‘Re-tooning’ video; Christmas Reflection
30mins lunch club: Christmas in a Sack; ‘Re-tooning’ video; Christmas Card Activity; Christmas Give-Away
45min RE lesson: Christmas in a Sack; ‘Re-tooning’ video; Christmas Card Activity plus adaptation
In Secondary School:
10min assembly: Wearing Christmas; ‘Re-tooning’ video;
60min RE lesson: Christmas films discussion; Re-tooning video; Christmas Card Activity with adaptation – have plenty of materials available (you could liaise with the RE department to ask them to provide glue or some other materials) as well as stencils or examples for pupils to copy; Christmas in a Sack to show what they have learned.
If you try any of these ideas in your schools this Christmas, we’d love to hear about it! Put photos (without children’s faces of course!) up on social media, tag them #XmasInSchool and we’ll share them.