Why Easter is such a hard lesson to teach

10th April 2009 at 01:00
It is time to set a fixed date for the most important festival in the Christian calendar

Good Friday used to be the only day of the year, apart from Christmas, when national newspapers did not publish. Now, many companies are open as usual and only horse racing comes to a halt to mark the most important festival in the Christian calendar. It's tempting for teachers to follow suit and soft-pedal the story of Christ's death and resurrection. Christmas has a baby, sheep and cows and cheerful songs harking the herald and resting ye merry gentlemen. Easter has treachery, cruelty, terrible suffering and death. The hymns are about "riding on to die" and "paying the price of sin". Even the happy ending involves tricky explanations, especially for younger children: see TES articles over the years offering advice on how to explain it all. No wonder schools are more likely to offer an annual nativity play than an annual passion play.

Yet the Easter story should be told in every school. As John Howard, the former prime minister of Australia, put it: "This is not some Christian right-wing political push but a fact. God is part of our culture." Teachers may want to explain to pupils that Bede gives an Anglo-Saxon pagan goddess - Eostre or Eastre - the credit for the name Easter. They may also include (pagan) Easter bunnies in their classroom displays. But the crucifixion story is central to western history, literature and art, whatever a child's religious beliefs. It will take more than the new GCSE qualification featuring humanism and the Unification Church (otherwise known as the Moonies) to change that.

So Catholic primary schools in Wales are right to mark the season by taking their pupils through the Easter story day by day and by reminding them that there is more to it than chocolate and chicks. Non-faith schools are also teaching about the Easter message through passion plays and church going.

Some Catholic schools have taken their commitment a stage further by postponing the spring holidays by a week so that their teaching is as close as possible to the Easter weekend.

And that's the snag. As some heads point out (see pages 4 and 5), different holiday dates may cause difficulties for other schools, parents and exams. Teachers may teach in one school and have children in another.

The co-ordination of Easter holidays is a not a new problem. Because it falls on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox, the date may differ by as much as five weeks and we end up with a holiday that varies from authority to authority, school to school.

Parliament made it possible for us to end the moveable feast of Easter in 1928. A decade ago, the World Council of Churches backed a reform of the 1582 agreement on the date of Easter. Nothing has happened.

We need schools to teach the Easter story to help pupils make sense of their history and their lives. A fixed date for the Easter break would make sense, too.

Judith Judd, Editor-at-large E: judith.judd@tes.co.uk.

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