Hilary Wilce celebrates school Christmas traditions – and everything they teach our children.

Christmas is coming, with all its midwinter sparkle and cheer. It’s not unknown for parents to feel a little frazzled right now as they contemplate their present lists, family budget and the politics of who will visit who on Christmas Day, but there is a fabulous and foolproof antidote to festive overload and that is any school’s Christmas celebration.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a traditional nativity play, a carol service, or a more multicultural smorgasbord. The magic is in the sparkle in the children’s eyes, the home-made costumes, the enthusiastic piano playing, the breathless declamations and the hearty, if not always tuneful singing.

And while the festive season outside the school gates seems to be increasingly about getting and spending, most schools do a very good job of fostering a Christmas atmosphere that celebrates the more important things of life.

Schools bring children together through songs and drama, encourage them to think about those less fortunate than themselves and introduce them to religious ideas that can help them start to think about the big questions of being human.

And while ‘normal’ lessons often get hijacked, think what those preparations are teaching pupils. Children are learning that to decorate a classroom you have to plan and prepare, make your decorations, and work together to put them up – practical project management in action!

They are learning that to put on a successful Christmas concert, everyone has to go on a journey that starts with being introduced to an unknown piece of music, goes through all kinds of dips and troughs when it seems as if no-one will ever be able to master either the tune or the timing, but ends up in a successful sing-out for an audience of family and friends.

Christmas is a perfect example of how schools are always busy doing so much more than just teaching maths, English and other basic subjects.

Through the annual rhythms of the school year they help their pupils see the importance of structure and effort. They encourage team work and partnerships and show them how to find their place in a community of people that is bigger and more complicated than home – but still a safe place full of familiar adults where mistakes can be made, successes applauded, festivals celebrated, and where everyone gets to play a part.

Sometimes, of course, schools aren’t always such constructive places, and as a parent you might be struggling with a classroom situation that is making your child unhappy. In which case, you might not be feeling much Christmas love for your child’s school right now.

But even the difficult patches of school life can offer important learning to children and most young people will leave school with the kind of good memories that are very likely to include Christmas jumper day, or singing ‘Little Donkey’ in the Christmas concert, or the picture of Mr Edwards, the school caretaker, playing Santa with such gusto that his ho, ho, hos blew his beard off.

So mark your diary, put your phone away, cram your pockets with emergency tissues, and prepare to wallow in the true joy and purity of Christmas – as brought to you by children everywhere.

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