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Just facts minus the message

As might be expected in a city with a substantial non-Christian population, celebrations in Birmingham are conducted with some care. Multicultural Christmases are strongly represented as well as the traditional.

That said, however, only one out of a sample of 29 schools had no plans to put on a play with a Biblical or moral message at the core.

Twenty-four involved infant classes in conventional nativities complete with Joseph, Mary, Jesus and animals. The juniors were more likely to mount general productions including the stories of Noah's Ark, Moses leading the Israelites out of Eygpt, and one called The Smallest Angel. A minority held nativity assemblies.

Twelve schools approached Christmas in a wholly factual way, forestalling concern by making it clear to parents that they were simply depicting the Gospel story, not preaching a message. They took the same approach to celebrations of Muslim Eid and Hindu Diwali.

Three headteachers explained that they took particular care to modify some sentiments.

All the schools attempted to acknowledge the major non-Christian festivals throughout the year. Seventeen held carol services and several denominational schools also held Christingle services. The majority reported few problems with parents over their celebrations, even those with a high proportion of children from other faiths.

The head of one primary school where 80 per cent of 400 pupils were of Asian origin said it generally held a Christmas production which includes a traditional nativity play. But he said: "Last year we had a fundamentalist from Turkey here who said he did not want his child exposed to Christmas images and who kept his child away from school for the last two weeks of term."

On the other hand, a junior school head with less than 10 per cent of children from non-Christian backgrounds said: "We had a complaint following our production last year about the giving of gifts to anyone but baby Jesus because it implied paganism."

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