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Christmas Kennings

The Nativity story through kennings

by Alexandra Palmer

Suitable for Key Stage 2


To use kenning poems to explore the Nativity story.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (Christmas Kennings) and the means to display them.
  • Have available the YouTube video ‘The Happyland Nativity: the meaning of Christmas’ and the means to show it during the assembly. It is 3.17 minutes long and is available at:
  • Optional: you may wish to use the extension activity (Christmas Kennings - Extension Activity) that accompanies this assembly.


  1. Show Slide 1.

    Explain that this assembly is all about Christmas kennings.

    Ask the children, ‘Does anyone know what a kenning is?’

    Listen to a range of responses.

    Explain that a kenning is a bit like a metaphor, in that it’s a pair of words that are used to describe something as if it were something else. So, for example, a kenning for the sea could be ‘whale-road’.

    We can group kennings together to make a kenning poem.

  2. Show Slide 2.

    Read out the kenning poem on the slide.


    Ask the children, ‘Who is the kenning about?’

    Listen to a range of responses.

    Show Slide 3.

    Explain that the answer is Father Christmas.

  3. Ask the children, ‘Why do we celebrate Christmas?’

    Explain that, at Christmas, Christians around the world celebrate the birth of God’s son, Jesus.

    Show the YouTube video ‘The Happyland Nativity: the meaning of Christmas’ (3.17 minutes long).

  4. Explain that you are now going to tell the Nativity story through kenning poems.

  5. Show Slide 4.

    Read out the kenning poem about Mary.


    When God’s messenger, the angel Gabriel, visited Mary, she was scared. However, Mary listened to his message that God had chosen her to have his son, and expressed her faith in God’s will.

  6. Show Slide 5.

    Read out the kenning poem about Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem.


    Explain that when Mary was heavily pregnant, she and Joseph had to take a long, uncomfortable journey on a donkey to travel from Nazareth to Joseph’s home town of Bethlehem. This was because the Romans wanted to calculate how many people were living in the Roman Empire, so they insisted that everyone return to their home town to be counted.

  7. Show Slide 6.

    Read out the kenning poem about Jesus being born in a stable.


    Explain that when Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, all of the rooms there were full. However, a kind inn-keeper showed compassion by offering his stable as a place for Mary and Joseph to stay. This is where Mary gave birth to Jesus, and where he slept in a manger. From the moment Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph protected their baby

  8. Show Slide 7.

    Read out the kenning poem about the shepherds who visited baby Jesus.


    Explain that the shepherds were on a hillside at night-time, looking after their flocks. Suddenly, a host of angels appeared, announcing Jesus’ birth and singing in celebration - the shepherds were terrified. However, they conquered their fears and went to visit baby Jesus.

    In those days, most shepherds were not liked because their job often made them dirty and smelly, so it was surprising that they were the first people to visit baby Jesus. It showed that Jesus was here for the poor, the lonely and the sick, not just rich people

  9. Show Slide 8.

    Read out the kenning poem about the three wise men.


    Explain that the three wise men are also known as the three kings or the Magi. They travelled a long way and had to cross many deserts on their camels, using a star to guide them on their journey to visit baby Jesus.

    On their way to see Jesus, the wise men stopped off in Jerusalem to see King Herod. They thought that the baby might have been born in his palace. Herod was a nasty, mean king whom many people disliked. He asked that the wise men return to his palace after they had found the baby, so that he too could go and visit.

    However, after their visit, the wise men were warned in a dream to return home a different way, to avoid King Herod

  10. Show Slide 9.

    Explain that the three wise men gave Jesus presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

    - Gold was a sign of Jesus being a king.
    - Frankincense was used in worship, so this meant that Jesus would be worshipped all over the world.
    - Myrrh was a perfume that was used when people died. It meant that Jesus would have a special death, which ended up happening 33 years later. This is when Christians celebrate Easter

  11. Show Slide 10.

    Explain that, after the wise men had left, Joseph was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt, to avoid King Herod harming Jesus. Herod was jealous because the baby had been described as the king of the Jews, and Herod didn’t want another king around. This meant that a lot of families ended up suffering.

    Mary, Joseph and Jesus stayed in Egypt until Joseph had another dream to return home because King Herod had died

Time for reflection

Show Slide 11.

Read out the words on the slide.

Ask the children, ‘What do you think heaven-ruling means?’

Listen to a range of responses.

The three wise men knew that Jesus was going to be a great king. Later on, when Jesus was teaching about God, and when he died on the cross, a lot of people didn’t believe that he was a king. However, when Jesus came back to life, many people believed that he was who he said he was: God’s son from heaven.

Christians believe this today. They believe that Jesus changed the world and that he still changes people’s lives today.

Dear God,
Thank you for the excitement of Christmas.
Thank you for all the different ways we can learn about Christmas.
Thank you for the Nativity story, which celebrates the birth of baby Jesus.
In the excitement of Christmas, please help us to remember its true meaning: to celebrate Jesus’ birth.


‘Away in a manger’, available at: (1.59 minutes long)

Extension activities

  1. Give each child a copy of the sheet that accompanies this assembly (Christmas Kennings - Extension Activity). Ask them to illustrate the Nativity and Father Christmas kenning poems.

  2. Ask the children to make up their own Christmas kenning poems.
Publication date: December 2023   (Vol.25 No.12)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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