Cracking the Easter dilemma

Approaching religious festivals at school can sometimes feel like walking on eggshells.David Self suggests a light touch

Christmas is easy. It is not hard to explain the central event: the birth of a baby. Although some schools may not wish to overemphasise its Christian significance, many continue to stage nativity plays. Few junior schools, however, embark upon a passion play.

To celebrate Easter, commemorating as it does the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, is more tricky. A headteacher once remarked:

"Easter's such a happy time - it's a shame to spoil it by talking about death."

The concepts of death and resurrection can be approached with a bulb and a bowl of daffodils. The flowers cannot bloom until the bulb is buried in the earth. A more traditional symbol is the egg: out of the shell emerges new life, just as Jesus is said to have risen from the tomb on the first Easter morning.

For this reason, eggs have long been central to Easter celebrations. Apart from egg-painting and egg hunts, egg-rolling games were once common in hilly districts, while in northern England a traditional game was played with a seriously hard-boiled egg held in the fist and knocked against an opponent's egg to see which cracked first.

Another way of approaching the Easter story is through The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis, from which a parallel can be drawn with the self-sacrifice of Aslan the lion.

Tackling the story of Easter, from Jesus's entry into Jerusalem to the events of Easter morning, need not be scary. Children can undertake detective work in the four Gospels to construct a chronology of events. It may be helpful to point out that all were written at least 30 years afterwards and so the writers' memories would naturally be at variance. It may also be useful to explain that the name Good Friday is probably derived from the medieval name, "God's Friday".

The story of the Passion could be acted out in mime, with some sections performed in slow motion as a narrative is read. Alternatively, supposing that radio or television had existed at the time, it could be retold in a series of news bulletins. All this can be linked with the RE syllabus (Year 4) Units 4C and 8B

Useful Websites BBC Religion website includes pages outlining the significance of, and practices associated with, the various festivals. Click on the relevant religion and then on "Festivals". BBC Schools pages have a useful section on Easter. www.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.ukcustomseaster.htmlWoodlands Junior School in Tonbridge, Kent, has an excellent website that includes imaginative pages about the major Christian holy days this term. (See also technology pages.) website depicts the Stations of the Cross - marking the stages of the Passion story. events celebrated at Purim are retold on this site.


The second half of this term is rich in festivals that relate closely to the RE curriculum and can be celebrated in assembly.

March 3 (Hindu) Holi

March 4 (Jewish) Purim

March 18 (Christian) Mothering Sunday Originally when Christians honoured their mother church, later the day apprentices and children in domestic service returned home.

March 25 (Christian) The AnnunciationMarks the visit of the Angel Gabriel to Mary.

March 31 (Islam) Milad un Nabi, the Prophet Muhammad's birthday.

April 1 (Christian) Palm Sunday The start of Holy Week.

April 3 (Jewish) Start of Pesach or Passover

April 6 (Christian) Good Friday

April 8 (Christian) Easter Sunday

David Self's assembly outlines for some of these festivals, plus more than 50 others, are available at


Holi is the Hindu festival that marks the end of winter and, although it has sacred origins, celebrations are not overtly religious. Bonfires are lit the night before, however, in the hope that they will disperse evil spirits. The next morning, everyone sprays each other with coloured water.

Water pistols, plastic bottles and bike pumps are all used to squirt water, which has been brightly coloured with powder, at all and sundry, irrespective of age, sex or class.

Not every junior school will feel it appropriate to conduct a Holi celebration during assembly.

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