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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Important to understand Christmas, say Britons, yet many are not confident retelling story

The majority of adults in Britain (58 per cent) agree that it is important to understand the story of religious festivals that other people celebrate, even if they do not celebrate them themselves. However, one in five (18 per cent) are not confident retelling the stories of any major festivals, including Christmas.

In a survey of over 2,000 British adults by YouGov, on behalf of the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE) and the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC), nearly two-thirds of younger people aged 18-24 (64 per cent) agreed that is important to understand religious festivals, more than the older generation (those aged over 55) where the figure was just over half (55 per cent).

People who said they belonged to a religion, as well as those that said they did not, were more likely to agree than disagree that understanding other people’s religious festivals is important, at 62 per cent and 54 per cent respectively. Among those who belong to a religion, almost two thirds of Roman Catholics (65 per cent) and six out of ten Anglicans (59 per cent) agreed.

However, when asked about a range of religious festivals and holidays, including Christmas, Easter, Hannukah, Diwali, and Eid-ul-Fitr, around one in five people (18 per cent), said they could not confidently retell the story of any of them.

Other findings of the survey include:

• Seven out of ten people (71 per cent) said that they could confidently retell the Christian Christmas story, although there were marked differences between the generations: around half (56 per cent) of young people aged 18-24 could do so confidently, compared with eight out of ten (83 per cent) of those aged over 55.

• Nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of 18-24 year olds said that they did not belong to a religion, compared with 37 per cent of those aged over 55, yet they still agreed with the importance of understanding different religious festivals.

• Understanding of non-Christian festivals and holidays is low, with around one in twenty or fewer agreeing that they can confidently retell the Jewish story of Hannukah (five per cent), the Hindu Diwali festival (five per cent), or Muslim Eid-el-Fitr (three per cent). The figures were slightly higher among younger people (five per cent, eight per cent and five per cent respectively).

Commenting on the survey results, REC Chief Executive Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, said: “There is a distinct gap between young people’s knowledge of different worldviews and how important they think it is to understand them. This gap needs to be filled by good education about religion and other worldviews that helps prepare them for life in an increasingly diverse and global society.

“It should start with understanding festivals and holidays at a primary school level, where better training for non-specialist teachers is needed, and continue through to the age of sixteen and beyond in lessons that delve deeper into the wide range of religious and non-religious worldviews that reflect the variety of practices and outlooks on life that exist around us.”

NATRE Chair, Ben Wood, added: “We live in a world where people with different religious and non-religious beliefs interact on a daily basis, in education, at work, and in the community. In my view, this survey sends a clear message that understanding those different worldviews, even if you don’t hold them yourself, is an essential part of life in modern Britain and young people’s school education should reflect that.”

Picture: Archive image from 2016 showing a life-size Nativity scene featuring carved wooden figures outside the Alderman’s Gate by the Wenzel Church in Naumburg, Germany. The sculptor Stefan Albert Hutter chiselled the figures of the Holy Family using oak after being commissioned by the city in 2012. The figures of the Magi, shepherd and various animals were added later. (Jan Woitas/DPA/PA).