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Look back at Suffolk schools' nativity plays and the history of the tradition




School nativity plays are as much a part of Christmas as Santa Claus, carol singing, mince pies and decorating the tree.

Families watch misty-eyed as shepherds in tea towel headdresses and angels with tinsel wings recite their lines and sing adorably... if not always quite in tune.

The traditional nativity play tells the story of the birth of Jesus in a stable. These days it often gets a modern twist with extra characters that could be anything from aliens to a talking caterpillar.

Houldsworth Valley Primary School Nativity - Bethlehems Buzzing (43507825)
Houldsworth Valley Primary School Nativity - Bethlehems Buzzing (43507825)

Nativity plays in the UK are now very much associated with children. Even tots in nurseries appear in their own versions.

But for centuries that was not the case. The first one is said to have been performed almost 800 years ago in a cave in Italy by monks led by St Francis of Assisi.

The tradition took hold through the middle ages and was often used as part of Church rituals at Christmas.

Boxford Primary School, CO10 5NP. Boxford primary school nativity. (43507823)
Boxford Primary School, CO10 5NP. Boxford primary school nativity. (43507823)

It was celebrated in various forms in Europe, especially in Poland, Spain and Italy. Spanish missionaries introduced the idea to countries like Mexico where it still flourishes today.

In the UK, dramatisations of the nativity were included in mystery play cycles but became less widespread in the 17th century because the Puritans disapproved of them.

School nativity plays were happening by the 1930s and 40s and their popularity surged from the 1970s onwards.

This year Covid restrictions mean that any school Christmas productions that go ahead will have to be staged within strict rules.

Newmarket Journal - December 2011 Laureate Primary School, Newmarket - Nativity (43507807)
Newmarket Journal - December 2011 Laureate Primary School, Newmarket - Nativity (43507807)

But we’ve been looking through our archives for photos of nativity plays from the past decade when there were no such worries.

Maybe you’ll spot yourself, your children, or grandchildren starring in a production from a few years ago.

And if you have pictures taken at school nativities from earlier times we would love to share them.

Wells Hall Primary School, Nativity (43507793)
Wells Hall Primary School, Nativity (43507793)

Please email your photos to barbara.eeles@iliffepublishing.co.uk

Read more: All the latest news from Suffolk

Lavenham Primary School Nativity (43507803)
Lavenham Primary School Nativity (43507803)
Tudor primary school nativity dress rehearsal. (43507801)
Tudor primary school nativity dress rehearsal. (43507801)
Pupils at Stoke by Nayland Primary School have been rehearsing their nativity play PICTURE: Mecha Morton (43507797)
Pupils at Stoke by Nayland Primary School have been rehearsing their nativity play PICTURE: Mecha Morton (43507797)
Guildhall Feoffment Community Primary School Nativity play PICTURE: Mecha Morton (43507799)
Guildhall Feoffment Community Primary School Nativity play PICTURE: Mecha Morton (43507799)
Nativity at Sir Robert Hitcham Primary School in Framlingham - Foundation classes "The Ball in Bethleham" (43507795)
Nativity at Sir Robert Hitcham Primary School in Framlingham - Foundation classes "The Ball in Bethleham" (43507795)
Christmas Nativity . The Clements Primary School, Haverhill. (43507791)
Christmas Nativity . The Clements Primary School, Haverhill. (43507791)
Newmarket Journal - December 2011 CHEVELEY PRIMARY SCHOOL NATIVITY DRESS REHEARSAL. (43507819)
Newmarket Journal - December 2011 CHEVELEY PRIMARY SCHOOL NATIVITY DRESS REHEARSAL. (43507819)
Clare Primary school nativity play. (43507813)
Clare Primary school nativity play. (43507813)
Reception class of Eye Primary School in 2013 nativity. (43507821)
Reception class of Eye Primary School in 2013 nativity. (43507821)
Newmarket Journal - December 2011 Great Heath Primary School, Mildenhall - Nativity (43507815)
Newmarket Journal - December 2011 Great Heath Primary School, Mildenhall - Nativity (43507815)
Acton Nativity (43507817)
Acton Nativity (43507817)