A news story today reports how school Nativity plays are marginalising the traditional roles of Mary and Joseph and that characters such as footballers, pop stars and aliens are hogging the limelight.
Yet these classic central characters have rarely had much to say or do except hold a plastic doll or scratch a false beard, so what’s the problem? The real stars have always been the supporting cast of farmyard animals.
The line-up of animals in the stable is also increasingly avant-garde. Cows, horses, pigs and donkeys are regulars but keep your eyes out for penguins, reindeer and monkeys this December. Yet regardless of beliefs or romantic notions of Christmas, it’s the humble sheep that is the hero of this epic tale.
Confident seven year olds with superior reading ability are normally picked to tell the audience of gathered parents that the Angels appear to the shepherds. Without the sheep, these chaps would have been drinking in the taverns of Bethlehem to celebrate the holidays.
Once convinced of the splendid angelic news, the shepherds leg it off to find the baby and hand over the only gift that they can lay their hands on; a lamb. Mary and Joseph must have been chuffed and no doubt fired up the barbecue as soon as they could find their matches. You know how hungry new mums can be, let alone grouchy new dads short on sleep.
So Christmas turkeys, geese and nine-bird roasting joints can move over. We should all be celebrating with sheep on 25 December.
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