Image: Flickr /Mike Fleming

It’s hard to bring to life a familiar story, and the nativity is just about the best known of them all. Stumped by contemplating the theological significance of turkey and stuffing, the Christianity elves decided to look elsewhere for inspiration. We came across eight people who have found creative ways to communicate the message of Christmas in 2012, and there are a few suggestions for how you might get involved too.

It is refreshing to see the way each story reflects a different aspect of the birth of Christ. In its work with young people in Manchester, The Message Trust highlights Mary’s teenage pregnancy. Ealing Soup Kitchen communicates the message of Jesus as one born to displaced parents. The activities of Holy Trinity, Hull emphasise that Jesus was born and lived among the people, not shut up in the Temple.

Many of the projects made us rethink how much we actively consider the Christmas story and its significance for our personal walk with God, and we hope they do for you too.


Matt Britton is artistic director at In Yer Face Christian Theatre Company. He is the writer and director of The Christmas Message 2012, a new show depicting Mary as a teenager from an estate. He and Andy Hawthorne, founder of The Message Trust, will be taking it to churches, schools and prisons.

How would you sum up The Christmas Message 2012?

The strapline of the show sums it up – ‘The fate of the world rests with two urban teenagers’. The whole of God’s plan rests with a 14-year-old girl saying ‘yes’ to God.

Why are you doing this?

Everybody has seen the old Mary and Joseph with tea towels on their heads; the story has become sanitised. We’re trying to capture the grittiness of the original and show what a gutsy woman Mary was. The show’s final scene sums up why we’re doing it. Joseph turns to Mary and asks, ‘Will we be good parents?’ and Mary replies, ‘No, we’re the most unlikely parents, but I don’t think that matters. God’s not after perfect, he takes us the way we are.’ That’s the message we want to get across.

What excites you most about it?

The opportunity that it brings. People don’t often want to talk about faith and religion, but at Christmas they don’t mind a few carols and hearing the nativity story. We want to refresh the story for them, letting them see it with new eyes.

Who did you play in your school nativity?

I played the innkeeper. It’s the reason I got into acting. He’s meant to be a fairly normal character, but I played him as an angry man. Since then I’ve played angry characters a lot!

Toy stories

Teresa Dunn works for the Salvation Army Chesterton Corps. Their Christmas Toy Appeal collects presents for children and young people in low income families and vulnerable situations, which are distributed through connections with social workers and health visitors. Last year they distributed 13,242 gifts to children in north Staffordshire.

Why do you do this?

I’ve always worked, and my family are well cared for. My grandchildren have parents who are able to buy presents for them. I love to support others; that’s the nature of the Salvation Army; we care about others and their needs. Christmas should be a family time, but [instead] people feel under stress. Lots of parents are getting into debt; they are paying for Christmas all year round. The support we give them makes it a bit easier.

What difference does the project make?

Distributing the presents is a ‘way in’ for child support workers – the families they work with are often fearful of authority. There’s a family of 11 whose mother is a heroin addict. It’s not the children’s fault, and it’s sad to think that they would go without because their mother’s needs have to come first.

What excites you about your work?

Our volunteers are worth their weight in gold. I could start at 8am and finish at 10pm and they’d be here with me. There’s not a gift that goes out that isn’t wrapped. We sometimes work right up until Christmas Eve.

What’s your favourite Christmas song?

For the kids – 'Away in a Manger'. I love that. For me, Chris de Burgh's 'A Spaceman Came Travelling'.

Peace in the Holy Land

Simon Azazian is information and public relations director at Bible Society. This Christmas he is working on the Child of Bethlehem project in Bethlehem and the surrounding area. The project seeks to bring scripture to life for children, away from the military presence, violence and aggression of the region.

How would you sum up the Child of Bethlehem project?

We run Bible camps to emphasise the need for scripture in the lives of children. In the last year, approximately 4-6,000 children and youth have been directly reached through our camps. We feel that we are planting seeds of hope in the younger generation. Our hope is that the seed of knowing God’s word and understanding its importance will flourish as they become active men and women in the coming years.

Why is it important to you?

It is so important for us to bring a completely different message to the ones our children constantly hear – that God loves them and cares for them. At Bible camp we have just a few hours to turn the children’s eyes away from the things that surround them, and this sums up the uniqueness of what we do.

How does the Christmas story impact your own faith?

I find walking into the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem so striking. For many years it has been a place of refuge for Christians. This church has stood the test of time and encourages me that we are here for a reason – bringing God’s hope, God’s refuge, and also fulfilling God’s calling to be salt and light.

What is your favourite Christmas carol?

'Gabriel Came to the Virgin Mary' – it’s an old Arabic song that is so Christmassy.

The Nativity Factor

Randall Helms is communities manager at ITN Productions. This Christmas he will be working on The Nativity Factor (with The Jerusalem Trust), an online competition in its second year which invites people to retell the story of the nativity in three minutes or less.

What is the aim of the project?

It’s a project that can inspire people to think differently about Christmas, their own life, and how they live it. The competition’s real aim is to get people to think about the story of Christmas and the birth of Christ. It seems to get missed in all the other stuff that surrounds Christmas now.

What excites you most about it?

I’m just really excited to see what people do. It’s deliberately left as an open project, although it has to be recognisable as the nativity story. The range of ways you can tell the story is huge – it’s the most known, loved story in the world. It’s the message and the archetypes in it that are important, but the particulars can be changed. The idea is to think about what Christmas means. It’s inspiring people to think of the actual story of Christmas. People’s creativity and imagination is the only limit.

What is the worst Christmas present you’ve been given?

It wasn’t given to me, but my grandmother gave my father a plastic fish that you mount on the wall and it sang. It didn’t go up on the wall...

O camel ye faithful

Matt Woodcock is curate and pioneer minister at Holy Trinity Church, Hull. This Christmas, instead of the usual carol services, he is organising a live nativity on the streets of Hull. To bring a touch of the Middle East to Yorkshire, a camel hunt was instigated in the press, and now the cast is complete. The procession through the city will feature a local opera singer as the angel Gabriel, the boxing club playing shepherds and a local pub landlord taking on the role of the innkeeper, with a supporting cast comprising a donkey, three sheep and of course, three camels.

How does the Christmas story impact your faith?

The reason I became a vicar was that I was frustrated by the number of people unreached by the good news. I felt God saying to me: ‘What are you going to do about it?’ The important thing is that Christ came to where people were – he wasn’t born in a synagogue, but among real people, and they were involved in his story. Jesus was incarnational with the people, no more so than when he was born.

Where did the idea for the live nativity come from?

We wanted to take the Christian message out to the people who wouldn’t normally come [to church]. I had a crazy idea to tell the real Christmas story with real animals. The council had conducted a survey asking how the people of Hull wanted to celebrate the season; they had said they wanted a ‘traditional Christmas’, so when I contacted the council asking for their support, they loved the idea. I’ve been amazed by the sheer goodwill. So many people from the local community are involved; even pubs and clubs are providing food for the event.

What most excites you?

I can see God at work in how it came together. There could be thousands there who’ve never heard the story before.

Who did you play in your school nativity?

A grumpy shepherd.

Jesus was born homeless

Peter Charlton has been helping at Ealing Soup Kitchen for more than 30 years. The soup kitchen is run by teams from seven local churches and serves lunch to more than 100 people in need at weekends throughout the year. At Christmas-time they serve a traditional Christmas dinner and give out presents. This year, Charlton will be volunteering in the kitchen on Boxing Day.

Why do you choose to spend Christmas in this way?

It’s what Jesus wants us to do. Jesus was born homeless; his parents had nowhere to go that night. This time of year is when we particularly think of the homeless. When I stepped down from running the soup kitchen, I was going to pull out from the whole thing, but I missed the people. I’ve known some of them for more than 20 years, through ups and downs.

What excites you most about what you’ll be doing this Christmas?

Seeing the faces of the people who come – we can try and cheer them up and give them a smile. We can’t recreate family, but we can do our best to make it into a family do and welcome them.

Do you have any inspiring stories from the project?

St John’s Church [Ealing] started a Café Church service at the time the soup kitchen closes on a Sunday – and a couple of people from the soup kitchen have been baptised. One guy who was baptised fell by the wayside and had to be banned for a while (we don’t have many rules but he broke them). When he was banned he still came and had a cup of tea outside. He’s gradually working his way back on track. He felt it was somewhere, when all the other doors were shut, that someone would ask how he was doing.

What is your favourite Christmas carol?

'Ding Dong Merrily on High'.