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Sherlock and Alice on the trail of a moral

The seasonal trappings are safe in Leicestershire schools. Most of the 40 headteachers surveyed described their end of term productions as "fairly" or "very" traditional.

Thirty-eight of the schools said they were putting on a nativity play, with the others sticking to a modern play. The same number also marked non-Christian festivals.

Children at Heatherbrook primary in Leicester, where around a third of the 265 pupils are non-Christian, staged a Victorian drama alongside a nativity for the juniors. As well as explaining how tinsel and robins came to be associated with Christmas, the play featured Alice in Wonderland, Queen Victoria, the Artful Dodger and Sherlock Holmes in a tale of forgiveness.

Children at the predominantly Hindu Rushey Mead primary, a 520-pupil inner-city Leicester school, where Sikhs and Muslims are both well represented, were told the Christmas story as part of an assembly on the theme of "bells", when they also sang traditional and modern carols. "We have to be very careful in the choice of songs," said headteacher Aileen Jamieson. "Our main concern is to choose songs that are meaningful to the children and that they can join in."

Several schools were performing pantomimes or variations on fairy tales. The Christmas story of Babushka was most popular among them, along with Snow White. Two schools had updated the nativity play, using the theme of shelter.

At Shenton primary in Leicester, where almost all the 420 children are Muslim, they were holding a Mexican Christmas, with songs, costumes and customs from Central America. More than half the 465 pupils at Sandfield Close primary in Leicester are Hindus, with Sikhs and Muslims well represented too. The school was putting on a traditional carol service and nativity.

Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light, figures strongly in the calendar, even for rural schools - "It's such a big feature of Leicestershire life," remarked one head.

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