Have your offspring ever caught you saying – or doing – anything you and the other half shouldn’t have been saying – or doing – in front of them? If so, be afraid – be very afraid – in case your little ’uns are going to be appearing in one of those free-form improvisation nativity presentations that seem to be catching on.

Witness the unscripted interchange between Mary and Joseph, as recalled by schools inspector and former teacher Gervase Phinn in his book A Wayne In A Manger (Penguin).

He says: ‘There was the time when the little boy playing Joseph strode confidently onto the stage and asked the small figure in blue who was cradling her baby, “And how’s our Jesus been today, Mary?” “He’s been a right little so-and-so!” came the blunt reply.’ Or the time Mary announced to a crestfallen Joseph: “I’m having a baby, and it’s not yours.”

And as any teacher or parent involved in preparing for a Christmas presentation will tell you, children always give a valuable, fresh insight into the story that the rest of us might think we know pretty well.

Such as the little girl who offered Phinn a pearl of wisdom and a boy in the same class who gave him a modern reflection on the situation faced by Mary and Josleph. Phinn was explaining to their class that there was no room at the inn, leaving Mary and Joseph no choice but to stay in the stable with the animals amongst the hay. The confident little girl named Tequila piped up: “Well, they should ’ave booked in advance. It always gets busy at Christmas.”

Undeterred, Phinn continued filling them in with more details, and finally reached the denouement by telling the children that Mary had to have her baby in a cold, dark barn. So the baby Jesus had no nice, new clothes, no toy, no cot. He came into the world with nothing. He was one of the poor and mean and lowly.

He writes: ‘Matty, who had been watching with eyes like.

Top three tips from an experienced mum

  1. Don’t forget your hankie (and take a tissue to hand your other half – he won’t admit it in advance but there’s bound to be the ‘ah’ factor that’ll prompt a misty-eyed response from him, too).
  2. Don’t shout out the lines if your child forgets them, or join in the dancing (by the time the performance is on you know their lines, and those of most of the cast, inside out) – your child will cringe with embarrassment if you try to help them out.
  3. Don’t use cameras or videos, even if the school still permits them. You only end up spending the whole time looking through a lens or with one hand in the air, with the result that you don’t really enjoy the performance. Some schools do their own recordings and you can buy them.