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Short shrift for a pagan past

Christians have a centuries-old habit of hijacking pagan festivals. Take Christmas Day, the day of the winter solstice, when the Mithraists celebrate the birthday of the Unconquered Sun. Fourth-century Christian spin doctors, eager to convert pagans, hit the jackpot picking December 25 as Christ's birthday.

Over the centuries, they exploited every pagan event. Yule logs came from the pagan Norse festival. Holly, ivy and mistletoe - fertility symbols - decorated churches. Even the fir trees of Roman Saturnalia were used.

Now Christians have their eyes on Halloween - that Disneyesque, US trick-or-treat import. They say dark forces frighten children and encourage anti-social behaviour. Rather than spoil the fun, a group of educators are promoting alternatives in schools, with parties themed on Noah and Joseph and his coloured coat.

So, paganism gives way to apocalyptic visions of the deluge, a jealous god and four shifty, almost murderous, brothers on the make. Wonderful education.

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