Children's Church: Living Waters at St John's has now accumulated a number of scripts for Christmas Nativity plays for children. Our Nativity plays are actually performed on Christmas morning, in the main family service. Although not many churches run their Nativity plays on Christmas, probably because it sounds like a huge effort just when people least need the stress, in practice we find that it works really well, and is not too intrusive on family Christmas time.
These plays were all written by Martin Dove, former leader of Sunday school at St John's, and we are pleased to offer them to any church or other group that wants to use them with no cost and no conditions.
Here is where you can download any of our scripts in either pdf (nice for browsing) or Microsoft Word (for editing) formats; to download a script in either format, just click on either of the words "pdf" or "word" after the short comments against each play, and your browser should download the script automatically for you. The scripts are ordered here by the year in which we performed them:
- From the perspective of the angels (my favourite, reworked in 2006) – pdf or word formats
- From the perspective of the kings – pdf or word formats
- Christmas through the ages – pdf or word formats
- From the perspective of the inn – pdf or word formats
- From the perspective of a Roman soldier – pdf or word formats
- From the perspective of Mary, with a focus on the Magnificat – pdf or word formats
- Based on Chapter 1 of John's gospel, an attempt to interpret this famous Christmas passage in view of the fact that it is actually a very difficult reading – pdf or word formats
- Based on a theme of the gift – pdf or word formats
- The theme of discovery, from the perspective of a pair of spies – pdf or word formats
- A reworking of the 1997 version from the perspective of the angels (my favourite, and seemingly a popular download) – pdf or word formats
- This is written from the perspective of Joseph, with a hint of "Tool Time" for those familiar with the ABC show "Home Improvement" (great fun) – pdf or word formats
- From the perspective of the shepherds (see if you can come up with some shepherd jokes of your own in Scene 2) – pdf or word formats
- This play has a focus on the people who were anticipating the coming Messiah, namely Simeon & Anna, the wise men, Mary, Joseph & Elizabeth, and, through their reading of the prophets, some scholars in Herod's Palace. You can have some fun with Scene 2, where the start of the wise men's journey is prepared in the style of RAF missions in old war films. A lot of this play is set in Jerusalem, and the link with Easter is clear – pdf or word formats
- This may be our closest to a traditional nativity play, in that we aim to squeeze in all the traditional elements. But we have emphasised the difference between the way that the world of the time was brutal and unjust, which allows us to contrast the message of peace with God that is at the heart of the Christmas story. – pdf or word formats
- In this play the congregation or audience travel with the angels to see the key events of Christmas at first hand. – pdf or word formats
We retain copyright of these plays, "just in case", but we don't aim to exert any rights in normal circumstances. And we certainly don't want to charge any fees.
It might be worth noting that the 1997 script is Martin's personal favourite, and we revisited it in 2006, but experience has shown that all scripts have met with a more-or-less equally positive reaction.
The bigger picture
The Christmas story is incredibly rich. There are so many facets to the story, and so many messages. In just one play it is impossible to touch on many of the details, and by the same token it is not so difficult to have variety from one year to the next. We tend to focus on one perspective each year, such as the angles or the kings, or the sense of giving or discovery.
Our aim is to present the central truth of Christmas, namely that God loves us and gave us His Son to be our saviour. The Christmas story is incredibly exciting. At long last, after years of seeing His people struggle with the consequences of sin, God has started his great plan of redemption. Each year this thought takes away our breath!
The plays were designed within the context of the following situation:
- Typically we are aiming at a group of around 15 children who will want speaking parts, with a number of other children who don't want to speak (eg as shepherds or angels) or who only want 1–2 lines. However, we have designed the scripts so that the number of parts can easily be adjusted (eg the numbers of speaking kings or shepherds can easily be modified), and in practice other churches have been able to use them with fewer children.
- We take the view that children are always very busy at school around Christmas, so we have always tried to produce something that was easy for the children without being trivial. Thus we aim for stage movements that allow us to push children onto the stage and pull them off without them having to remember difficult movements.
- We also try hard to avoid children needing to learn lines by writing scripts that could be read but hidden. For example, we hide the words for the kings in open-topped boxes covered with metallic foil to look like gifts, or we use scrolls when appropriate.
- We try to mix a light-hearted feel, with some jokes, with a serious take-home message. Christmas is fun and profound at the same time.
- The plays are designed as far as possible to have a set of self-contained scenes and with minimal overlaps of parts between scenes. This approach makes it possible to rehearse in small groups, and has other operational advantages.
- The scripts make use of the whole church. There is a lot of impact in having a hoard of angels run onto the stage from the back of the church in an attempt to reproduce the spirit of "Suddenly there appeared a host of angels...". The pulpit can also be very useful as a prop.
- The whole service typically lasts for around 50 minutes, including carols and songs.
- We like to mix modern worship songs with traditional carols, but that is really up to any church as to what music they use, and the scripts are not tied to any particular selection. A lot of modern worship songs capture the spirit of Christmas remarkably well, even when they are not specifically Christmas-oriented. A large part of the Christmas spirit is worship.
If you want to understand our context a bit more. we invite you to browse our main church web site.
Some tips from experience
In terms of operation, you may be interested to know about some of the small details of how we stage these plays and manage practices:
- We quickly learned that rehearsals can be a disaster, but children are capable of rising to the occasion on the day. In our view, it is best to be relaxed and not get too stressed. In every case it has always worked on the day, but you would never guess so from the dress rehearsals!
- We typically practice during Sunday morning Children's Church: Living Waters sessions in December. Typically we have four Sundays in which to practice. Each session is only one hour. Then we have a half an hour in that final Sunday after the church service to get a feel for any practical issues. We then have a good final rehearsal on Christmas Eve, which is actually good for families because it occupies the children on a day that is usually somewhat full of unspent energy!
- As a group of leaders, we typically assign one leader to each scene, and we give that leader complete freedom to run that scene as they like. This works quite efficiently in several regards. For example, it minimises the stress of central coordination, and it also gives each leader a change to have a significant creative input without having to worry whether they will be treading on toes. The same leader will then be responsible for marshalling the scene in the actual performance.
- For our plays, we use a small stage (with a carpet to avoid too much noise). The stage at St John's was home-built, and is designed to be easily stored.
- We use a couple of distance microphones, lapel microphones for main speakers, and lectern/pulpit microphones. Be warned; children are hopeless at understanding that they need to stand close to a microphone before they speak.
- Our recent innovation is to use a digital projector (which someone borrows from work), and project scenery and images onto a sheet held on a wooden frame from behind. It actually looks okay, and is cheap to set up. For anyone interested, you can download by clicking this link (6MB file size) a pdf file containing copies of the images we use (suitable for SVGA projection, 1024 x 768 pixels).
- We use an iPod (any MP3 player would work) to play sound effects, which can easily be sourced from the Internet. Typical sounds might be sheep noises, door knocks, windy nights, regal music and whooshing sounds.
- We also find it is useful to station a couple of adults at the back to help marshall angels, kings and shepherds if the script has them coming down an aisle.
As we noted above, we are pleased to make our scripts available for any church groups to use. You may like to get in touch before you use one of our scripts to get additional information. We will always give permission to use these scripts, with no charges and no conditions (eg you are free to edit and adapt in any way you like, you do not need to acknowledge us), so certainly please don't feel the need to ask permission. But we are really heartened to hear whenever we how the plays are used in various different situations. Please contact Martin Dove as the main author to let me know; he is always pleased to hear from people who want to make use of these. And we are always delighted to receive photographs from your church, school or community production.