Christmas on Canvas

By Mike Clayton


A traditional nativity play but played out against the backdrop of a group of older children going around an art gallery and the pictures “come to life” and so act out the Christmas story. Inspired by David Wagner’s script “A Child Shall Lead Them”.


25-40 C

Production note: This is a vehicle to play out the traditional Christmas story by having the paintings “come alive” – so for instance when the school party come to the painting of Joseph and Mary, the couple actually step out of the frame (we made a very large wooden picture frame about 10ft high 18ft across – hardboard front, spray painted gold, took me some 3-4hrs work, staple gun proved very useful) and walk around the audience as they travel to Bethlehem. The picture frame was the only special prop – all the rest was from the usual nativity costumes.

The good thing about this play is that:

1. It can be done with few rehearsals – we have little time in the run upto Christmas to practice. We did it twice before the day and once before the actual show. Many of the main characters such as the teacher literally had their words in front of them for the show (the art gallery guidebook), Gabriel reads from a scroll,etc

2. We had as usual a wide age range from 3+ all the way upto 13. The play allows for the older ones to do and say more, whilst the younger ones can have no speaking parts, e.g. the kings or very little to say e.g. the sheep who just say “baa” the once. You can have as many angels and sheep and shepherds as you like so there is flexibility and everyone can be involved in some way. The one boy who did not want to do any dressing up was very happy to do the required sound effects by turning the rainstick to signify when the paintings came alive! Please feel free to adapt this to suit your own children and audience – our two shepherds for instance had a very broad local accent (Lancashire,UK).


The play begins with Mary and the Angel Gabriel centre stage. Mary is kneeling and Gabriel standing before her – both frozen as a cameo – with 2 stagehands holding a large wooden frame in front (to represent the frame of the painting of Gabriel & Mary).

Enter stage left a group of school children led by their teacher who is acting as their guide…

Teacher looking rather hesitant and glancing up towards Mary and Gabriel, then his guide book, then back to Mary & Gabriel, while the kids are looking rather bored and following on behind, some chewing gum, one knocking off another kids hat, etc – Teacher spots this last infringement…

Teacher: Now pay attention, you two there at the back! Pay attention! Or you’ll be writing out one hundred times “ I must pay attention in class”

Another boy puts his hand up and the teacher points to him

Teacher: Yes, what is it Smith?

Smith: But Sir, we’re not in class, we’re in the art gallery.

Teacher: Of course I know that Smith, but it’s the principle boy, it’s the principle that is important.

Another boy immediately puts his hand up and chimes in without waiting for an invitation from the teacher:-

Jones: Sir - Is that why he drives a BMW Z4 M Roadster 3.246 litres 6 cylinder 343 brake horse power capable of nought to sixty in five point nought seconds not forgetting an extra-urban fuel consumption 36.8 miles per gallon, automatically dimming rear view mirror and nappa leather interior as standard …while you drive …that little car, Sir…what is it again?

Teacher: A punto Jones, A fiat punto…It wasn’t that kind of principal I was going on about ! Now Jones, I really wish you would stop going on about cars and my car in particular. We’re not here to learn about cars, we’re here to learn about Art! My dear boy! Art! For instance… (moves closer to the painting) Look at this marvellous work by a great master (motions to the tableaux of Gabriel & Mary) The Angel Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her some wonderful news! See the exquisite detail, fine brush strokes, you could reach out and touch it, it’s so…so…real!

(Just then a loud tinkling sound is heard to signify a magical event – the teacher and the kids freeze looking on as Gabriel and Mary come to life as it were)

Gabriel: Greetings! The Lord has blessed you and is with you. Do not be afraid, Mary. You will have a baby and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord will give him the throne of David and his kingdom will never end.

Mary: How will this happen since I am a virgin?

Gabriel: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you. For this reason the baby will be holy and will be called the Son of God. Remember your relative Elizabeth is going to have a baby even though she is very old. God can do anything!

Mary: I am the servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me just as you have said!

(Magical tinkling sound is played again to indicate switch back to the teacher and kids)

Sarah: That was amazing, the painting seemed to come alive!

Jenny: Yes, I didn’t know art could be so cool!

Teacher: Now onto the second part of the exhibition which is over there – Come along! Follow me! (motions down the L hand isle of the church, promptly marching off with the children in tow)

The Teacher and kids start to stroll down the Isle looking at the audience members as though the audience themselves were figures in some gallery display (meanwhile giving time for scene change back on the stage as Gabriel exits and Mary is joined by Joseph and the “star”)

Jones: What part of the gallery is this?

Smith: I don’t know, but some of these statues look really ancient!

Jones: I’ll say – they aren’t half ugly…Hey – maybe it’s the part of the gallery where they restore the exhibits – you know, brush the dust off and fill in all those little cracks…

Smith: “Little” cracks? That one’s (points to someone) going to need at least 3 big bags of cement just for starters!

Sarah: This reminds me of when I was in London….

Jenny: What – all those people all smartly dressed in the latest fashion going up and down Oxford Street? Elegant ladies tottering on their heels with prada handbags? Sophisticated men in their Armani suits?

Sarah: Er…No – I was actually thinking more of the chamber of horrors at Madame Tussaud’s...

Teacher and kids walk around in a semi-circle as it were and start to come back down to the front of the church again down the R hand isle

By the time they arrive back at the front, Mary and Joseph are now centre stage, with a third person holding a star aloft, and again two people holding the picture frame

Teacher: Ah! Here we are – the second masterpiece!

Teacher looks back at the guide book again

Teacher: Now pay attention class! This is a picture of Joseph and Mary. Now then…. what does it say here… “In those days Caesar Augustus gave an order that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to his home town to be registered. And so it was that Joseph, who was engaged to be married to Mary, went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea to register there because he belonged to the house and line of David…”

(loud tinkling magic music plays again – teacher and schoolchildren freeze whilst Mary & Joseph come alive, step out through the picture frame, and start walking around the church going clockwise down the L aisle. At this point suitable canned music played or the congregation join in a well known song)

By the time Mary & Joseph have gone around the church, the main stage has been changed to that of the manger with baby Jesus. They step back into the picture through the frame and take up position whereupon the magical tinkling music plays again

Teacher picks up where he left off

Teacher: Errr…now where was I? That’s right – Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem and while they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no room for them in the Inn.

Magical tinkling music again – action switches to the back of the church as 2 shepherds and 3 sheep emerge from the Melrose room

Albert: Eeee! Iza reet parky tha’ nose t’neet!

Arthur: Aye Albert! tiz, tiz indeed! reet parky!

Albert: Aye, Arfur, aye – am near frozzent deeuth tha’ nose!

Arthur: Aye that we are – Ba gum! near frozzent deeuth! …. thaz reet again tha’ nose!

Albert: Nowt but uz - all them there stars - an’ these ‘ere sheep! (sweeps hand up to the skies & the sheep)

Arthur: Aye – just uz, t’stars and t’sheep

Arthur and Albert keep looking up at the stars – a pause for a few seconds as they gaze upwards, then the sheep in turn give one “Baa” each

Sheep 1: Baa

Sheep 2: Baa

Sheep 3: Baa

Both Arthur and Albert turn to look at the forlorn sheep

Albert: ‘A towd thee yon sheep ‘ad th’easiest lines in show!

Arthur: Tha did indeed Albert, aye tha did.

Sheep all look at each other and nod in agreement happily saying baa,baa,… to each other.

Albert: An’ as usual - nowt’s appening ‘round ‘ere!

Arthur: Aye – thaz reet agin tha’ nose – nowt appening ‘round ‘ere – wuz appening ‘round ‘ere Albert?

Albert and Arthur look at each other and in unison to each other proclaim Loudly: Nowt!!!

Wait for audience to settle down again then MUSICAL FANFARE TO ANNOUNCE THE ANGELS when the angels all appear – some on the balcony above (including the main speaker) and some say the younger ones from the Melrose room too

Main Angel: Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger


At this the angels all disappear (only temporarily, they don’t need to go too far away) leaving the Shepherds and sheep alone again

Arthur: Albert! Albert! Worel uz do na’ then?

Albert thinks for a bit then says

Albert: Worel uz do? Worel uz do? Uz’ll go ‘n’ see t’babby ‘afore owt else appens!

Albert and Arthur promptly march down the aisle to centre stage, followed by the bleating sheep, and then the angels – and they all step through the picture frame and take their place alongside the others to make the nativity scene

When everyone is in position for the nativity scene – magic tinkling music plays again, at which all the nativity characters have to freeze as best they can, whilst the schoolkids come alive again

Jenny: Hey! Where did those shepherds come from – those sheep – and all those angels! They weren’t there a moment ago!

Sarah: Maybe someone just pulled the wool over your eyes?

Jenny: Ha Ha, very funny!

Teacher: Now observe children as you will notice in the Christmas scene we see Mary & Joseph with baby Jesus in the manger, we see the shepherds because the angels announced the good news of Jesus’ birth to them but observe closely…we do not see any wise men or Kings because everyone knows of course that they came much later on…

Immediately music (‘we three kings of Orient are’) plays over the system just for about 10-15secs – the Teacher and kids can all hear and see this this time (NO magical tinkling this time) and in come the Kings from the fire exit R corner in a slow single file procession. The teacher and kids watch spellbound – the procession heads towards the front with the servant leading the procession pushing the teacher out of the way, dropping his guide book – which Smith promptly picks up

Servant: Out of the way O peasant one!

As they all file past – Teacher looking suitably put out.

The Kings all file past bearing their gifts and enter the scene by stepping in through the front of the picture – meanwhile Smith thumbs through the book – and as they are all taking their places:-

Smith: Sir! Sir!

Teacher: ….Er ….yes…what is it Smith

Smith: Sir Sir – it says here that wise men came from the East asking: “Where is the one born to be King of the Jews”. The Star went on ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. The Wise Men were overjoyed and bowed down and worshipped him and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and Myrrh!”

Smith stops reading from the book at this point, looks up and says

This is fantastic Sir! It’s just like we are there with them and it’s happening for real!

Jones: I’ll say! No-one told me Art Galleries would be this cool!

Sarah: Yes, not half!

Jenny: Hey why don’t we all go in and join them?

Smith: What all of us? Right now?

Jenny: Yes – all of us! Just think! What a great adventure it will be!

Smith: But what about them? At this point all the children look out over the audience…

Jenny: Well they can come too!

Teacher: You know, I think you’re right Jenny - God wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on Christmas! This is what is says in our guidebook:- For God so loved the whole world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not die but have eternal life. Christmas is more than just a marvelous painting for us all to stand back and look at, or a pretty picture on a Christmas card… No – Christmas is about knowing Jesus – to love Him, to worship Him, to be with Him That means me – you – everybody… So what are we waiting for?

All the kids and teacher all march through the painting joining the others in the scene – finish with everyone joining in to sing Away in a Manger?


© Mike Clayton 2006, all rights reserved. The script may not be reproduced, translated or copied in any medium, including books, CDs and on the Internet, without written permission of the author. This play may be performed free of charge, on the condition that copies are not sold for profit in any medium, nor any entrance fee charged. In exchange for free performance, the author would appreciate being notified of when and for what purpose the play is performed. He may be contacted at: