IT was the infant nativity this week. As usual, there was much blubbing and wailing and proffering of tissues amid supportive cries of: "There, there," "You can do this" and "I know you'll get through it". And that was just the mums and dads.

It's got to be the most emotionally charged event of the festive calendar. Better than any West End show or star-studded pantomime.

The audience is fighting back the tears from the moment the little ones first come on stage, complete with tea-towels, tinsel halos and donkey ears. Some cast shy glances at their parents, their mouths twitching as they desperately try to suppress a smile.

Others wave manically, shouting "Mum, Mum, look at me." There's always one little angel or shepherd who, to the delight of everyone except their parents, picks their nose rather too enthusiastically. And the poor baby Jesus usually ends up being dangled by one of his legs, or falling on his head.

My own little star, one of the animals in the stable, looked terrified when he arrived on stage and saw the size of the audience. He immediately hid his face behind his hands and stayed like that, apart from an occasional shy peep through his fingers, for the whole production.

Still, he sang enthusiastically enough, even if it did sound a little muffled. And I was able to tell him with absolute sincerity: "Darling, it was perfect." No matter what goes wrong, the infant nativity always is.

THE ten year-old had a leading role in his school play, A Victorian Christmas Party, this year and has been conscientiously learning his lines nearly every night for the past three weeks.

Not to be outdone, his six-year-old brother took his two-line cameo role just as seriously and demanded we rehearse his part every evening as well.

And so we have been repeating "Thank you, Papa," and "Good night, Mama," over and over and over again throughout most of December.

Determined not to be upstaged by his older brother, on the night, the six-year-old hammed up his lines something rotten, loudly declaiming: "Thank you, Papa," with a grandiose flurry of his arm, as if he were a leading character in a Shakespeare play making an extremely important pronouncement.

"Good night, Mama," was delivered in much the same manner. But for all his dramatic excesses, one thing puzzled me. Instead of kissing Mama goodnight, he puckered his lips and made a loud "Mwah" sound from about a foot away.

"Why didn't you just kiss her on the cheek?" I asked him afterwards. Wide eyed, he looked at me as if I was deranged: "Because I didn't want to catch any germs, of course."

I FIND lots of Christmas cards for the older boys, stuffed into blazer pockets or stashed in the bottom of their rucksacks, ignored and forgotten about. They are all written by girls. Boys aren't bothered. This is where the rot begins. Because most boys will grow up to be the sort of men who spend 20 minutes doing all their shopping on Christmas Eve. Done and dusted. The girls might think Christmas is fun now. But just wait until they end up, like me, filled with dread, instead of excitement, as the big day approaches and they contemplate what there is still to do and what little time there is left to do it in. They will be waking up in the middle of the night, having panic attacks, or heading off to the all-night supermarket at 3am. All the sending of cards, buying and posting of presents, shopping and entertaining seems to fall disproportionately on women. Blissfully unaware of what is to come, some of the girls even go to the trouble of taping a sweet inside each of their classmates' Christmas cards. It's a lovely thought, but I would urge them all to stop right now, before it gets out of hand. I think boys have got the right idea.

I DISCOVERED a fascinating newspaper our six-year-old and his friend created out of stapled together sheets of A4 the other day. Some of their stories could have come straight from the Sunday Sport. "A cow has spoken" was one headline. Alongside a picture of the cow, the story reported the animal's first words: "Go away." There was much doom and gloom: "A building has fallen - lots of people killed" was another headline. One story claimed: "Zombies are here - the dead are coming to life, shut your windows and doors now." Another announced: "A sheep has sunk in a stormy sea, lots of people drowned." I think they meant ship, but who knows? It was all big news, but they obviously saved what they considered to be the most important story for the front page splash: "A baby has been born" was the headline. "He is called Jesus and he is the son of God," they wrote. Ahhhhh. Bless.

Published: 22/12/2005