Page last updated at 17:21 GMT, Thursday, 3 December 2009

Parents splashing out on top quality nativity costumes

By Hannah Richardson
Education reporter, BBC News

Nativity play
Some parents have been dressing their little angels in bridesmaid dresses

Time was when an old tea towel and a pair of striped pyjamas were all your child needed for their nativity play.

Now, it seems, Virgin Marys are appearing in luxury pashmina shawls and Wise Men in bejewelled silk turbans.

Some pushy parents are spending as much as £150 on their child's Christmas play, department store Debenhams says.

And so great is the "manger chic" trend that the store's team of personal shoppers is now trying to persuade customers to see sense.

Debenhams spokesman Ed Watson said: "The amount of money that some parents want to spend on their child's nativity play appearance would enable the baby Jesus to leave the stable and check into a five-star hotel.

"It's silly and we're doing all that we can to persuade competitive parents to change their minds - it is the season of goodwill after all."

We feel certain that the story of the nativity can still be told using very simple materials
Ed Watson

He added: "Their sons and daughters will still look wonderful wearing a pair of pyjamas and a sheet rather than the latest dress or coat straight from the high fashion catwalk."

Debenhams said it noticed the trend after speaking to its personal shoppers who were suddenly being asked for tips on how to create the ultimate nativity play makeovers.

While the majority of parents wanted advice on how to use cheap readily available materials to the greatest effect, a significant minority were insistent that only the best would do, Mr Watson added.

He suggested the cause of the phenomenon might be, with the pressure on primary school places, parents wanting to get their child noticed.

He also said it could be that today's parents are simply not confident about making their child a costume and so they "throw money" at it instead.

'Knot of panic'

And strangely it was those parents whose children had the less prominent parts in their plays, such as donkeys or sheep, who were playing major roles.

Mr Watson suggested: "They feel they have to compensate for their child's minor role by putting on a much greater display of 'manger chic' to win attention."

Brand new bridesmaid dresses worth £50 were being sourced for the role of angel and arctic fur throws costing £60 for the role of sheep, he said.

Parents of would-be shepherds were paying £25 for striped velour dressing gowns.

Mr Watson said: "While we applaud parents wanting to do their very best for their children, we feel certain that the story of the nativity can still be told using very simple materials."

Meanwhile John Lewis said it had found the reverse to be true, with parents desperately trying to improvise costumes at the last minute.

A spokeswoman said: "Every parent has felt it, that dreaded knot of panic as the realisation hits that a costume for Mary, Angel Gabriel and one of the three Wise Men has to be made within a week!"

Fabric expert at the Welwyn Garden City store Julia Dudrenec said: "I've been working in the haberdashery department for over 10 years and every Christmas it's the same.

"Worried parents and children arrive with sometimes only minutes to spare before the stage beckons. We try and help as much as we can, with the minimum of fuss, time and expense."

The store had also seen a surge in sales of tea towels and tights.

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