I won’t see my son in the nativity

Nativity with wooden characters stock image

The nativity can be a rite of passage. My own parents have a home video of me in the 80s, five years old, tinsel wound around my head, bridesmaid dress slightly too small, wings slightly askew.

I sang a song about how Mary was going to have a baby, to rapturous applause. And then I turned around and put my hand over a fellow angel’s mouth and told her very clearly to “Shut up!” when she sang at the wrong time. I was a bossy little madam; the teacher in me was apparent, even then. And, of course, that story has been told for thirty years, to delight and humour each time.

At the end of Love Actually, it is the Christmas Pageant unites everyone for the finale. The familiarity and humour of that shared experience enhances the warmth that unfolds as each thread of the story reaches its conclusion. Was there more than one Lobster present at the birth of Jesus?

Nativities are a rite of passage for parents too.  Cutting up old tea towels, taking the morning off, good-natured complaining about finding the time to make a donkey costume. And then, watching, filming, feeling overwhelmed with nerves and pride and love. I imagined it, before I had children – watching my own angels, my own shepherds, making more stories to tell for thirty years.

But parenting is never quite the way you imagined it. My boy won’t be in the nativity.

When they asked if he wanted to be a camel or a shepherd, he became quite distressed.

“I am not a camel! I am a boy!”

As always, I can’t fault his logic. He won’t be persuaded. He wouldn’t like it on stage. Proximity to other children, people watching, the lack of control – it would be agony for him, even just standing at the back.

Instead, he will sit by the person stopping and starting the music. Music is one of his great loves and Christmas music delights him. Each time the music starts, they tell us, he moves his chair a little to one side – a ritual, a repetitive action to make him feel safer. He will be happier there, by the music. For that, I am grateful.

But I will mourn the shepherd that will never be. I will mourn the making of camel costumes. I will mourn the big moment when my child comes on stage.

My boy will stand out. He will stim and shout and move his chair, just the same, each time. The other parents may wonder why, may take note of his odd behaviour. Or, they may not see, engrossed in their own angels’ big moment.

My boy is different. Occasions like this will always make it clear, will always be bittersweet.

I will go to the nativity. I will watch my boy. I will tell the story of how his logic was faultless, of how he loved the Christmas music. I will tell it for thirty years. One day, he may change his mind. He may yet be a shepherd or a lobster. Or he may not. His sister may be the star of her nativities. Or she may refuse them too.

And that’s okay. Because the greatest lesson that autism has taught me is that it is not the trivial differences that matter, it is the universal emotional truths.

Yes, this year’s Christmas play will be bittersweet. It will be bittersweet for all the parents attending. They may be so proud that their child is doing something they find hard. They may mourn the relentless passage of time, remembering older children in nativities past, realising how fleeting these perfect moments are.

But the nativity is not what’s important. It doesn’t matter if you are a Christian. It doesn’t matter if you have a religion or none. It doesn’t matter if you celebrate Christmas or not, if you are autistic or neurotypical. We all love our children. Our children love us. The nerves and the pride and the joy and the love is the same, wherever you go.

That warm feeling at the end of Love Actually? It’s there because of universal human experience, not because of angels or tinsel or lobsters, just like the meaning of the title reveals.

And I am pretty glad I don’t have to make a camel costume, to be honest.


To read more about our autism journey, you may like to read ‘The Things I Know‘.


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10 thoughts on “I won’t see my son in the nativity

  1. Exactly! I had to make Jude a sheep costume once and spent an entire evening sticking cotton buds onto a while t shirt. Jude didn’t “get” it at all and wandered around the back of the stage oblivious of the hundreds of people in the audience! He was only four at the time and I’m going to be terrible here and say I was initially a bit embarrassed. But then I noticed that people weren’t laughing, they just accepted that Jude wasn’t going to be a pivotal role in the play and that he was doing something amazing for himself by just getting on the stage. A x #SpectrumSunday

  2. I found this so relevant to read today – my daughter’s Nativity is to be held in the local Abbey, she’s had previous issues when in this building, we had to take her out of family christenings to the sound of tuts 🙁 She finds the building overwhelming, the lights, the noise the sheer volume of people. My parents still tell the story of my first nativity – dressed as a present box, with my head inside the box so as to hide from the crowd of spectators ! x

  3. Yes, making a camel costume is not top of my list either, even with a step-by-step from Pinterest!
    There is so much pressure put on the Nativity play, but as you say there’s so much more to seeing our children for what they are and what they can achieve, not just for their role in the school play.
    Popping across from #SSAC

  4. I’m so glad I read this post today of all days. I had a conversation with my four-year-old’s teacher this morning about the school play. Tyger was ‘supposed’ to be a cow in the beginning but it quickly became apparent he couldn’t cope with being right in the middle of the stage with all the other animals making noise all around him. Now, he’s a drummer at the back.

    His teacher was worried about me not being able to see him at the back. Apparently, it’s school policy to encourage all the children to do something at the front of the stage at some point during the play to avoid parental complaints!

    I explained I’d rather not be able to see him for even a single moment during the whole play if it means he enjoys it and doesn’t end up overloaded and anxious. It’s a little sad, perhaps, but it would be sadder for him to have a meltdown in front of all those parents and children and end up terrified by the thought of ever having anything to do with school performances again.


  5. Long ago I had to accept that my son was never going to be a willing performer on stage (he doesn’t like the limelight & would rather do anything else than perform). However, he has very occasionally played a musical instrument to be a part of things (it fits in with his love of musical instruments). I’ve cherished those moments while bawling my eyes out at the same time, totally blown away by the effort it has taken him to do it. It may not happen much for you and for your boy, but you will still cherish those moments – especially the ones you know are particularly hard for him x

  6. Hope you can all enjoy the nativity in your own way. We had times when D would be happy to practice both in school and at home, I’d get her costume sorted and then on the day, nerves would completely overcome her. If your son can join in, in his own way and you can see he’s happy, then all good.
    Thanks for linking up with #SSAmazingAchievements

  7. I can totally relate to these feelings and I have a few of these shows under my belt now. I have also experienced it in mainstream and now a SEN setting. The feelings are always the same every year. And today’s experience with our Little Lady was one that I was not expecting! I hope it all goes well for you and you enjoy the show. You never know next year he might just want to be that lobster ;0) xx

  8. Haha about the bit at the end. Your writing just gets better and better, the way this flows and the structured thoughts I love it. I never liked doing the Christmas shows as a kid. I didn’t get it, the whole rigmarole and I suppose I still don’t really. I’m a Christian now, and I like the fact that Christmas is being talked about in school for my daughter as she grows up but still I wonder about the whole School play thing, I mean her whole December has been rehearsals and learning songs and lines, and mostly standing around waiting for everyone else to learn their songs and lines as her part happens to be at the end. It all just seems a bit much, and it’s times like these I wish I still homeschooled her. I’m glad your little boy has found something in it he can enjoy. Great post 👍

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