Faced with the annual headache of explaining to a class of eager pupils – and their even more eager parents – that there can only be one Mary and one Joseph, many teachers take a few liberties with the other roles, often casting a small army of angels, shepherds, wise men.
But now one town has taken that unofficial British tradition to a whole new level, inviting the entire population to join in – and earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records in the process.
Previously perhaps the best claim to fame of the town of Calne, near Chippenham in Wiltshire, was the fact that the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge once lived there.
But now it can legitimately claim to rival lapland as the world’s Christmas capital, after persuading a record breaking 1,254 people, all of them residents of the town to dress up in traditional nativity play costumes as either wise men – or women – shepherds or angels.
While most of those taking part made their own costumes, preparations created a town-wide shortage of bed sheets.
The local launderette, Laundromagic, stepped in providing dozens of sheets, while a sewing group sprang up in the local pub, the White Hart, making costumes for weeks in advance.
But with less than an hour to go until the record attempt, organisers realised they were still around 100 sheets short, prompting a desperate dash around houses on the town’s Green asking residents to rifle through their laundry cupboards to meet the shortage.
To radically increase the numbers from here the trick would be to have three thousand wise men. Not something you’re going to find in Calne of course but Bath could rustle up that to travel from the East, from say Sydney Gardens to the Abbey Churchyard where the scene itself is played out.
One advantage of that route being that there aren’t too many pubs along it, meaning it would still be the Christmas spirit motivating.