LETTER : Forget Christmas, and have a merry pagan Winter Solstice festival

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Sir: Richard Dawkins is doubly wrong ("Who needs a euphemism for Christmas?", 19 December).

The current tendency to turn Christmas into a syncretic "holiday season" involves not so much an evasive betrayal of the Nativity as a restoration of the midwinter festival to its pagan origins before it was hijacked by the Christians in the fourth century. Few elements of the traditional Christmas have much to do with the stories in Matthew's and Luke's Gospels, and most come from popular customs from various cultures. Anyway, isn't it good to have a festival which can appeal to everyone?

And young children can and do have theological opinions, and may indeed be atheists. Having been brought up in an atheist family, I certainly knew by the time I went to school that there were no gods, any more than fairies or ghosts or angels. The same was true of many children I knew then, and also of my own children. Anyway, aren't all children atheists, until they are told otherwise?

In this context, the imposition of religious drama on schoolchildren is surely as objectionable as the imposition of religious worship, however eclectic or syncretic its content, despite the common practice of Nativity plays, the co-operation of teachers and parents, the approval of religious and educational leaders, and your editorial endorsement (leading article, 20 December). It cannot help involving indoctrination , which Richard Dawkins rightly condemns, as well as widespread embarrassment for believers in other religions or none.

NICOLAS WALTER

Rationalist Press Association

London N1

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