Monday, December 23, 2013

Something about the boy: Welsh people can't get enough of the Nativity

Church attendance in some parts of Wales may be in apparent freefall, but the Christmas story is gripping the public imagination. 

There are nativity presentations everywhere and two in the capital city are on an epic scale.

Take for example 'Christmas – The Story'. This is the fourth consecutive year that this production has been mounted in the heart of the capital city and this year it is has also gone on tour 20 miles miles north to the town of Aberdare.

It's free to punters, features real life donkeys and has separate English and Welsh sittings. 

This venture is totally ecumenical and supported by a range of churches in Cardiff and Aberdare.

The production is funded by members of local churches, and is the brainchild of Cardiff churchgoer Sally Humble-Jackson, who came up with the idea after a shocking survey showed that there was a woeful lack of knowledge of the Nativity story among young people.

The survey revealed that one third of young people did not know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

"I figured that it was time we got out of the pews and made sure that people could access the Nativity story as easily as they could drop in to see Santa in his grotto," said Sally.

Last year around 6,000 people watched the live shows, including 2,500 schoolchildren. The free drop-in event tells the classical Biblical story, using a mix of adult actors, puppets and has professional staging, lighting and costumes.

The shows in both Cardiff and Aberdare have been staged entirely by volunteers and thousands of schoolchildren have seen them.

And it's an impressive achievement. Sally runs the entire operation on a shoestring budget and although it may not be a cast of thousands, it's not far off. With performances every forty minutes, the road to Bethlehem is gruelling for all concerned.

A Welsh Baptist church in central Cardiff is the main venue for the productions and passers by are routinely greeted by wise men, angels and the holy family in exotic dress. No tea towels here. But it's the seasonal donkeys that are stealing the show.

Staying in Cardiff and a Methodist minister has attempted to set the record for the largest ever multi-cultural nativity play. At the beginning of this members of the public were invited to take part in the attempt by Rev Irfan John, Synod enabler for the Methodist Church in Wales.

Rev John is employed to work with culturally diverse congregations and acts as a conduit between churches and Synod, as well as supporting asylum seekers and refugees.

Fifty-five nationalities graced the stage at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff to make up the seasonal scene.

Irfan said: "It's a way of building the bridge of care between people and taking the message of peace around the world. If people from different countries, different backgrounds, different nationalities, different religions, with different languages are working together in Cardiff, why not in other parts of the world?"
Irfan was granted asylum in the UK, with his wife Raheela and their children Karam, Iram, Iraj and Daud Irfan, in 2006 after fleeing persecution in Pakistan.

He said: "If we get the record I'd like to donate it to Cardiff – my personal thank you to Cardiff who offered me and my family sanctuary."

World record confirmation is still awaited, but it 's hard to imagine a more ethnically diverse Christmas tableau.

Both projects are run by Christians for the benefit of the city. 

In the spirit of the original screen play, these are public events, free of charge, involving children, animals and the most controversial birth story ever.

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