The Christmas show must go on

As a succession of schools have shown, it will take more than a global pandemic to prevent Christmas traditions being honoured this year. All that’s required is a little invention…

Like so much else in this extraordinary year, it seemed as though the pandemic would surely put a halt to some of our most treasured school-based Christmas traditions.

Whither all the proud parents gathering in a nervous hush for the school nativity, waiting to see whether their beloved offspring can really make the role of Second Donkey their own? Or, if not that, at least manage not to inadvertently trot off the front of the stage.

And what about the denizens of the local old folks’ home, for whom the sight of glow-faced youngsters tentatively groping their way through ‘Away in a Manger’ invokes the festive spirit like nothing else?

But yet. 2020 might have been the most unsettling peacetime year in living memory, but it has also sharpened a sense of community to cut through even the heaviest gloom. To that end, if Covid-19 is Scrooge, then the following schools are like so many Tiny Tims, fighting against the odds to ensure seasonal cheer wins out. Blending generosity of character and ingenuity in equal parts, they have each made good on a vow that the Christmas show must go on.

Socially distanced carol singing at Barnard Castle Preparatory School

Barnard Castle Preparatory School, for example, staged and filmed no fewer than four pantomimes – one for each house – and sent the results to parents via a secure internet link. On top of that, years three and four presented the annual Christingle service in virtual form, taking online viewers on a brass band-backed tour of the school. Years five and six offered web-watchers a comprehensive carol service, while a stable scene created in the forest school formed the centrepiece of a campus-wide nativity. Although restrictions meant that no more than 15 pupils were able sing together at any one time, some judicious editing meant the final film included a fully blended chorus.

“Christmas is a magical time,” said the head of the County Durham school, Laura Turner. “The children and their families have had to endure such a lot this year that we were absolutely determined to make it as special as we possibly could.”

There was a similarly multi-faceted approach to overcoming pandemic-related restrictions in Hampshire, where events at Ballard School included internet-aired carols around the Christmas tree, a pantomime, grand raffle, Santa run, recording songs for Oakhaven Hospice’s ‘Light up a Life’ concert, and a Christmas jumper day raising funds for the local food bank.

“There is always a wonderful buzz around the school in the run-up to Christmas and, despite all the challenges and different ways of doing things, that festive good feeling is here in force at Ballard,” said headmaster, Andrew McCleave.

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Perhaps the most adventurous efforts to conquer Covid constraints emanated from Bolton School, where the Girls’ Division’s annual carol ceremony took place with a live audience as normal. Well, not quite normal. Instead of holding the event in the Great Hall, students staged a drive-in version outdoors. 75 cars filed into the quad, allowing passengers to enjoy a spectacularly lit show. Choreographed highlights included the year nine choir singing from upstairs windows and soloists performing from a gazebo.

Bolton School Boys’ Division, meanwhile, produced a socially distanced version of that latterday Christmas classic, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. Created with the help of Sitcom Soldiers, a video company founded by two Bolton Old Boys, the feature-length film required online auditions, months of rehearsals via Zoom, then a few days of in-person run-throughs followed by three days of filming, culminating in the whole cast singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ in the Great Hall. The results were rather stunning, we think, but you needn’t take our word for it:

One of Withington Girls’ School’s proudest traditions sees pupils welcome older members of the local community for an annual Christmas concert and tea party. Such a gathering was impossible this year, so students pulled out all the stops to take the glad cheer out into the community. Socially distanced concert rehearsals began as early as September, with DVDs of the Christmas song medley distributed to more than 200 senior citizens in the Manchester area, replete with lyrics displayed karaoke-style on-screen to encourage singalongs. Each disc was accompanied by a gift pack comprising a present, mince pie, shortbread, sherry, cracker, raffle ticket, and personal handwritten message.

“It’s given people something to look forward to and talk about,” said Amelia King, project manager at the Assist charity, which supports older people in the local area.

“They really appreciated being remembered, because this pandemic has meant that a lot of other things have had to come before them and they often feel left behind.  They were very impressed with the process, and that it was on DVD; for them it was a kind of magic.”

Merry Christmas, one and all.

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