Surprise, Surprise! – Christmas




To show that Christmas is about discovering more than the birth of a baby.

Things you’ll need

  • 3 shoe boxes with lids
  • Christmas wrapping paper
  • 3 gift tags
  • 3 presents that no one would ever want! (Eg a brick, some rubbish from the bin, an empty perfume or after-shave bottle)
  • Sellotape
  • Lots of money (notes only)
  • A flipchart and a pen (for the ‘Response’ time)
  • A Christmas wrapped box containing enough sweets for all the children in the assembly (only for the Key Stage 1 option)


1 Wrap the boxes and the lids separately with the Christmas wrapping paper. For each box, hide some of the money between the wrapping paper and the box. The paper has to be removed during your presentation, so don’t tape the edges down too well.

2 Once you’ve wrapped the boxes, place a ‘present’ into each one and write the name of the person who will receive it onto the gift tag. Choose three adults who will be at the assembly to receive the presents, to avoid upsetting children.

Bible Base

John 3:16a


1 Talk to the children about Christmas – the story of the birth of Jesus which is celebrated all over the world by millions of people.

  • Ask some questions to make them think about Christmas being celebrated all over the world (eg do they know which parts of the world will be hot/cold at Christmas?)
  • Ask if they know where we can read the story.
  • Explain that we give presents to each other at Christmas in the same way that the Wise Men gave their presents to Mary and Joseph for their son, Jesus. Ask if the children can remember what the gifts were.

2 Tell the children that you have gifts for three people. They are for…surprise, surprise… Read out the names on the gift tags. You could ask three children to deliver the gifts to the appropriate adults.

3 When the three people have received their presents, ask each one in turn to open them and show everyone what they have been given. Ask each person what they think of their ‘gift’! Ask them to give their honest reactions (eg ‘Rubbish!’ ‘Disgusting!’ etc). It shouldn’t take too much persuasion to encourage them to give you back your presents (and the boxes). When they do, act as if you are really disappointed about having your gifts rejected.

4 Once all the gifts have been returned to you, let the children see you smiling as if you know something that they don’t! Then choose one of the boxes and show everyone the present (eg the brick). Put it to one side and then pull out the money which is hidden in the box and lid. As you are doing this talk to the children about how X (the name of the person who received the gift) was so busy looking at what she thought was the gift, that she managed to miss the greater present. It was there for her and she would have found it if she had only looked a bit harder. Show the money. Ask the adults who were given the gifts how they feel about their loss!


A Christian viewpoint

1 Read the first part of John 3:16 from the Good News Bible:

God loved the world so much, that he gave his only Son…

Explain that the Bible teaches that this is what the Christmas story is all about. Christians believe that God gave the greatest present ever – his own son, born as a baby in Bethlehem, born so that people could be friends with God.

2 Say that today…(name your adult helpers)…looked at the presents they were given and decided to reject them. We all know what they missed out now on don’t we? Explain that the Bible teaches that God gave the gift of his Son Jesus at Christmas. Some people say ‘Thank you’ to God for his gift. Some people say ‘No thanks’. And some people are still thinking about it.

For everyone

For those who believe the Bible’s teaching about Jesus, Christmas is one of the most important times of the year. Those who don’t believe, or who are not sure, can still enjoy the presents, the parties and all the good things of Christmas and in school we can all enjoy the celebrations together.


1 Ask the children what things we can enjoy together about Christmas. Using the flipchart, write down their ideas and then use them as a focus for their thoughts or prayers.

2 Allow about fifteen seconds of silence to think – or talk to God – about what has been written.

Key Stage 1 option

1 Instead of the surprise ‘horrible’ present, give a member of the staff a Christmas-wrapped box which contains enough sweets for all the children (could be expensive!).

2 Ask the children whether the person receiving the gift said ‘Thank you’. Point out that they don’t know what the gift is. It could be something really horrible. Let the member of staff open the box. Then ask him/her to show the children what the gift is, explain who it is for and when they will be allowed to eat the sweets!

3 Talk about the gift God gave at Christmas and what different responses people might make to it. (Then continue as above in the ‘Application’ section.)


An amazing gift from the King – Easter

Bible base:

Luke 23:1-25

Teaching objectives:

To show that the Bible says Jesus’ death was the punishment for other people’s guilt.

You will need:

  • A bottle of water, a jumper and a loaf of bread, individually wrapped as though they are presents. Do not try to disguise the shape of the items.
  • Prompt cards to show the assembly saying ‘Give us Barabbas!’, ‘Kill him!’ and ‘You’re free!’
  • Pictures Visual Aid Pictures photocopied onto card (or create your own images).

Introductory activity:

Show the assembly the three presents that you have wrapped up. Choose one pupil to come to the front to have a closer look but do not let them unwrap them.  Ask them to imagine the following situations: which present would they want most in each one?

  • You are really hungry
  • You are really thirsty
  • You are really cold

Unwrap the presents to discover if the pupil made the right choice. Ask the pupil to sit down again.

Today’s story is about a man who received an amazing gift, which was the thing he wanted more than anything else. Unlike the presents we have here, it was not something that could be wrapped up. The man’s name was Barabbas.

The Bible doesn’t tell us an awful lot about Barabbas, but what we do know is that he started a riot and murdered someone. And he doesn’t look very happy, because he was caught. He was found guilty and put in prison. Show picture 1a.

We can imagine Barabbas feeling very lonely, sitting in a prison cell on his own and feeling very sorry for himself. With no one else to talk to, perhaps Barabbas started to think about how stupid he had been. He knew that the punishment for his crime was the death penalty. Why had he done it?

Jesus was also in prison, because the people had accused him of causing trouble and saying things that weren’t true. But, unlike Barabbas, Jesus hadn’t done anything wrong. Show picture 1b

I wonder what Barabbas was thinking.

Perhaps as he thought about the punishment that was waiting for him, he realised that he deserved it. He knew that what he had been doing was wrong, and now he had been caught out, he knew that he deserved the punishment. Barabbas was miserable.

Ask the pupils what gift Barabbas would want more than anything else at this moment.

More than anything, Barabbas wanted to be free. One day, as Barabbas was sitting in his cell, he heard crowds outside the prison shouting something over and over again. What was it? He couldn’t make out the words at first, but as he listened, it seemed to get louder and louder, as though the people were getting closer. Eventually, he could hear what it was they were saying:

Hold up the prompt card ‘Give us Barabbas’ and encourage the assembly to shout it over and over.

Barabbas was going to be released! The people were calling for him!

But then, just as he was getting excited, he heard their shouts change to something much less pleasant:

Hold up the prompt card ‘Kill him!’ and encourage the assembly to shout it over and over.

Maybe it was not so good after all. Now it seemed as if the people were calling for his execution.

Barabbas was suddenly very scared. And he became more and more scared as he heard the heavy footsteps of the jailer coming along the corridor (you could add some atmosphere by walking heavily across the assembly hall). And then he could hear the rattle of the jailer’s keys and the locking and unlocking of doors. Barabbas had never been so scared in his life, as he realised that this could be the end.

Suddenly, the doors swung open and the jailer appeared in the door, and in his big, gruff voice he shouted:

Hold up the prompt card ‘You’re free!’ and encourage the assembly to shout it out.

Show picture 2a. Barabbas was amazed. What about what the crowds had been shouting? Surely they had been shouting ‘Kill him! Kill him!’?

The answer was that when the people were shouting ‘Kill him!’, they were not talking about Barabbas. They were talking about Jesus.

They had been given the choise of having Jesus or Barabbas released, and they chose Barabbas.

But there is a problem. Barabbas was ‘guilty’, and Jesus wasn’t, yet Barabbas was going to be set free and Jesus was going to be killed.

The Bible does not say why the people suddenly decided that they wanted Barabbas to be released and Jesus put to death. Maybe Jesus’ enemies had told the people untrue stories about Jesus, or maybe they claimed that Barabbas was innocent and shouldn’t be in prison.

It does not seem fair, but this means that Jesus took Barabbas’ guilt.

And then, when Barabbas was free, Jesus was killed on the cross.

The Bible says that when Jesus died on the cross, he was choosing to take the punishment for all the wrong things all of us have done, not just Barabbas. What an amazing gift! We are probably not murderers, like Barabbas was, but no one is perfect – no one except Jesus.

The Bible says that the punishment for sin is death, and that is why, if Jesus was going to take our punishment, he had to die.

Christians believe that Jesus wants to take the ‘guilty’ sign away for all of the wrong things any of us does or says or even thinks. Show picture 2b. Jesus can take away all the wrong things that we do, say and think, but he wasn’t guilty of doing anything wrong himself.

Optional prayer time:

Say thank you that Jesus came to earth to take the punishment for all of the wrong things in our lives. If you choose to, you could pray that we would think about whether or not we want to accept this gift.