Christmas in South Shields: What were your nativity plays like?

Christmases of old were very much a hand-made affair: handmade presents (knitted scarves and socks); wooden toys (made in granda's potting shed) and hand-made decorations (coils and coils of coloured paper, stuck together and streamed from one corner of the room to the other).

Pupils from St Oswalds RC Primary School performing a nativity play in 1986. Inset below, funnyman Ken Dodd.
Pupils from St Oswalds RC Primary School performing a nativity play in 1986. Inset below, funnyman Ken Dodd.

And the DIY theme continued when every class at infant and junior school prepared for their annual nativity play.

There were no shop-bought costumes or props in those days, everything was made by a willing army of mothers; invited via a note from the teacher to produce some suitable clothing for their child.

Ken Dodd.

So, whether a youngster was playing the role of Mary, Joseph, Angel Gabriel, the three shepherds, the three wise men or the host of angels – out would come the sewing machine and sewing box along with every spare bit of material and old clothing that could be found.

One essential item for most nativity characters (barring the archangel and assembled angels, of course) was the humble tea towel. Tied around the head (snake belts anyone?) they were the standard headwear for pretty much every visitor to the stable. Thankfully, they were pretty uniform in design and colour, though some looked as if they had just been used to do the drying up the night before.

For the “heavenly hosts” and the Angel Gabriel, halos and wings were made of strands of tinsel and sheets of silver foil. Held in place with twists of old coat hangers, they weren’t the easiest things to put together, but, in the best tradition of Blue Peter, they did the job, and so, once suitably attired (and with a doll in the manger, representing the baby Jesus), it was on with the show, and the inevitable slips, trips and forgotten lines.

With the whole school assembled, most classes did their own version of the story, with varying degrees of success, though some preferred to perform scenes from the likes of A Christmas Carol.

Once everyone had done their bit, it was time for some carol singing. Funny how you sometimes muddled up the words when you were little!

So the lyrics of Good King Wenceslas suddenly became “Good King West last looked out...” Away in a manger morphed into “Howay in a manger...” and, you guessed it, “while shepherds washed their socks at night ...”

Talking of Christmas carols, one of the most poignant remains Silent Night, though there was nothing silent about it when funnyman Ken Dodd got his hands on it.

Who remembers seeing him on stage or on TV (probably The Good Old Days), big bass drum strapped to his chest, performing the song?

He’d sing the words whilst banging the drum – a sight and a sound to behold!

Anyway, back to nativity plays. What are your memories of such festive treats, either those you performed in or ones that you’ve watched over the years?

Please get in touch with any anecdotes that you would like to share with readers.

Also, what do you look forward to most when it comes to Christmas time?