“I will honour Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.”Charles Dickens
According to the 1944 Education Act, schools in England are required to have a daily act of collective worship which is broadly Christian in nature. Outside of a relatively small band of faith schools I’d be surprised if many schools follow this element of the Act. Here in France there are different rules. It’s not that you can’t have religion in schools, it’s the case that you have to opt in if that’s what you want. Last week, data published from the last British census tells us that less than half of the British population considers itself to be Christian – this is a significant change from 10 years ago when 59.3% professed adherence. We are a school community in which there are different beliefs however we don’t subscribe to any particular religious faith. In this we are following the lead provided by the republican nature of the local educational tradition and trusting in our school values.Religions and religious belief are often the subject of criticism outside of schools. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion is clear that religion “teaches us that there is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding” (2006). If this is the case, then it is perhaps fair to ask the question why are we so keen on celebrating Christmas? There is an obvious link with ancient festivals such as Saturnalia and other religious celebrations but surely there is more than that to all of this. Perhaps the true appeal of Christmas must lie in the fact that it promotes virtues that are universal, shared and representing common ideas about humanity. And it is a time of year when we need a bit of cheer. I’d like to think that amongst the materialism, Mariah Carey, and the terrible movies that are inescapable at this time of year we are thinking about those who will not enjoy time with family or whose lives are blighted by illness, want and despair. If ever I need confirmation that our community does look outward, it is in the annually astonishing repose to the Love in a Box appeal. Thank you to all the families who have filled boxes and whose generosity will bring joy at this time of year. Similarly all who supported last week’s Christmas Fair, a huge thank you. As a consequence of your generosity there are children in our partner schools who will have access to education where previously there was no school. Now that’s a gift.
Whatever beliefs we have or don’t have, this is as good a time as any to think of others and indeed to celebrate all that has been done through the course of the year and what lies ahead. BSP pupils have achieved a massive amount on a personal and a collective level in the last twelve months. We’ve returned to exams in person, our trips are back on, we have a wide range of activities available and we do not need to wear masks all the time. School life feels normal – and I am particularly grateful for that. There is much to celebrate. I hope that you will be able to join us for our seasonal concerts (or have already joined us this afternoon for the magical Reception and KS1 performance), there are plenty more to choose from. Each one promises to be a moment to escape the pressures of the world around us and bask in the spirit of human generosity that marks this time of year, whatever our particular way of viewing the world.