True spirit of Christmas – now unwrap the presents!

Mary and Joseph and the cast  of Arundel Court Infants School's nativity play, Portsmouth. Below is the cast of Stamshaw Infants School production in 2006
Mary and Joseph and the cast of Arundel Court Infants School's nativity play, Portsmouth. Below is the cast of Stamshaw Infants School production in 2006
Bob Sivewright with quick-thinking newsboy Chris Turner

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Saint Francis of Assisi performed Midnight Mass in Greccio, Italy, on Christmas Eve 1223 in front of a life-sized nativity scene (crib or creche) built by Giovanni Velita, with live animals.

This is sometimes credited as the first nativity play.

065209_0152_STAMSHAW_INF_NAT 11/12/06''Stamshaw Infant School children at the reheasal of their nativity play  "The Christmas Story" at St Saviour's Church, Jervis Road, Stamshaw, Portsmouth.''PICTURE: MICHAEL SCADDAN (065209-0152) MAYOAK0003377937

065209_0152_STAMSHAW_INF_NAT 11/12/06''Stamshaw Infant School children at the reheasal of their nativity play "The Christmas Story" at St Saviour's Church, Jervis Road, Stamshaw, Portsmouth.''PICTURE: MICHAEL SCADDAN (065209-0152) MAYOAK0003377937

However, more formal nativity plays have featured in Christian worship since the medieval mystery plays.

The twelfth to nineteenth pageants of the 48-cycle York Mystery Plays dealt with the nativity story. In Germany, the Weihnachten services on Christmas Eve include a children’s mass called Weihnachtsgeschichte, which features a Krippenspiel (crib play).

In Belgium, puppet theatres often put on variations on the nativity play in the weeks before Christmas.

The play usually depicts the Massacre of the Innocents which occurred after the birth of Jesus.