In an unusual twist to the traditional nativity play, a performance of the Christmas story in south Wales will see Mary wearing a safety helmet as she rides the donkey to Bethlehem, or the square in Neath in this case.

Organisers of the church performance were told that the female star of the show, eight-year-old Libby Doorman, would have to wear a riding hat and possibly riding shoes because of fears she could fall off the donkey and to comply with health and safety laws.

“We've been advised that any young child riding a horse or donkey needs a hard hat for health and safety purposes,” said Mark Barrett, 44, a youth worker at The Bridge Church in Neath, south Wales, who has organised the performance which involves a procession through Neath to the square.

“We’ve got to consider that Mary will be riding a donkey on a public highway. I know that the donkey will not be moving very quickly but we don’t want to flout the law.

“The owner of the donkey has told us because of his licence she will need to wear a riding hat.”

Mr Barrett said they didn’t have a problem complying with the regulations and that they had also had to ensure that the child riding the donkey did not weigh more than eight stone. He said the riding hat was likely to be covered by Mary's costume on the day.

Mr Barrett added: “We take her through the procession area to the town centre, crossing a main road. We’ve had to put marshals along the way to make sure the crossing is safe and the animals don’t get startled.”