It is the time of year when parents and grandparents look forward to seeing their children dressed up as Mary and Joseph or the Three Wise Men. But the traditional Nativity play at Knowland Grove Community First School in Norwich has been axed in favour of a celebration of a range of different faiths.
Yesterday pupils' families branded the politically-correct move "disgusting", while leaders of other religious communities said they were just as disappointed by the continuing erosion of the Christmas festivities. Instead of a Nativity play, the school's 100 children aged four to eight are presenting pieces about the origins of Christmas, the Jewish holiday Hanukkah and the Hindu festival of Diwali. It is entitled the "Festival of Lights", a phrase commonly used for Diwali, held in October.
Housewife Beverley Browne, 49, whose four-year-old grandson is at the school, said: "The Nativity is a very important story and I think it's disgusting not to do it. "Christmas should be all about the little ones learning about Jesus - that's the story they should learn about. This school's idea is rubbish. I think this is political correctness gone crazy. "I just can't believe what's happening in this country. We're supposed to be a Christian country and all our little ones should learn all about Jesus and Christmas."
Another mother said: "I'm very angry and upset about this because the Nativity play's been a tradition at the school since I was a pupil there. "A lot of parents feel so strongly about this that they're threatening not to send their children to school on the day of the new show. "At Christmas we always have a nativity play and invite parents and grandparents along. This is what Christmas is all about - Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus being born."
Byron Simmonds, chairman of the Progressive Jewish Community of East Anglia, said the school's move was well-intentioned but misguided. "It's a good thing to study different religions, but it is Christmas after all, and we certainly don't have anything against schools organising Nativity plays. "I can see why parents would be upset - Norwich is hardly the most cosmopolitan place, and yet the play sounds as if it's been watered down until it won't really be about Christmas at all."
The move comes as Christmas traditions come under attack as never before. Last week the Daily Mail told how schools across the country were replacing Nativity plays with secular productions featuring such characters as reindeer, eskimos and even Elvis Presley, while only one in 100 High Street Christmas cards now has religious theme. And Chancellor Gordon Brown has attacked Government-funded playgroups for replacing Christmas parties with politically-correct "winter celebrations".
However Knowland Grove headteacher Trudi Sharred insisted that Christmas was "alive and well" at the school. "Our children have been singing carols and songs in the mall, our Christmas tree is up, and we will be sitting down to our Christmas meal this week," she said. "We decided this year to take a slightly different approach with our end of term production to include a look at some of the other great cultural festivals of the world while maintaining the traditional Christmas message."
The younger two age-groups will present pieces on Christmas and Christingles while Year Two will perform a poem about Hanukkah and Year Three will explain Diwali. "All the children I know are looking forward to taking part in our Festival of Lights," added Mrs Sharred.
Norwich has one of the least ethnically-diverse populations in England, with just 587 Jews and Hindus at the time of the 2001 census, and Ofsted said "virtually all" pupils at Knowland Grove are "white British".
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