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Scrooge rewrites the calendar

With Christmas falling on a Thursday, the holiday calendar looked easy to plan - a straight fortnight off from today (Friday). But leave it to 32 education committees to cogitate and they are sure to come up with different answers. So although many pupils are released, those in some authorities struggle on until Tuesday or even Christmas Eve.

Among the most Scrooge-like councils are Renfrewshire and those of the historic county of Ayr. Long ago they offered refuge to the Covenanters, who had no time for festivals ending in -mas. The Calvinist tradition lasted long. Even early in this century Scottish schools would meet on Christmas day. But there is no evidence of particular austerity among Ayrshire councillors, and by popular acclaim the notion would be risible in Renfrewshire. The modern home of theological correctness, the Western Isles, sends its pupils home today to prepare for the Nativity or Nintendo.

Perhaps the schools which meet next week will be able to confine festive activities to just two or three days instead of having them dominate the whole of December. Maybe an ordinance has gone out in Ayrshire banning cribs until tomorrow. Anyone allowing Santa into a Renfrewshire primary before the shortest day will receive the shortest shrift.

Teachers are expected to be so well organised in these days of development plans and audits that domestic seasonal preparations are no problem. Forgetting to order the chipolata sausages is a sign of professional inadequacy.

"Bah!" said Scrooge. "Humbug!" Charles Dickens would have disdained the killjoys but even he could not have dreamt up the retribution visited on East and West Dunbartonshire. Not due to close their schools until next Tuesday, they were visited this week by pestilence - which is how many people would describe West of Scotland Water. Some schools were forced to close and thousands of pounds went on newspaper advertisements explaining the situation. The spirit of Christmas is strong and can be vengeful. But as Tiny Tim put it: "God bless us every one."

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