We asked a group of children aged four to 15 what they really knew about the Easter Story. Their answers are amusing, unexpected . . . and, at times, very revealing.
Last year the Mail went out and questioned scores of 16 to 30-year-olds. The results made startling reading. An astonishing 40 per cent did not know that Jesus died on Good Friday, and 60 per cent were ignorant of who Pontius Pilate was.
This year we took to the streets again and, with the permission of their parents, of course, quizzed a selection of four to 15-year olds.
We asked them: 1. What happened on Good Friday?
2. Why did Jesus have to die?
3. Who betrayed Jesus?
4. How many apostles were there?
5. What did the Roman soldiers put on Jesus's head?
6. Who was Pontius Pilate?
7. What happened on Easter Sunday?
8. Who was Jesus's mother?
The answers, though often touchingly hilarious, reveal the diminishing significance of religion in our national life and in our schools.
For many, the meaning of Easter has been lost altogether and the Bank Holiday means nothing more than a break from school and an excuse to overindulge.
Of course, Britain is a multicultural society which embraces a multitude of faiths, but the lack of knowledge, particularly among older children, is also indicative of standards of decline in general knowledge.
Interestingly, some of the Hindu children and believers in the Bahai faith scored far better on the Easter story than their supposedly Christian counterparts.
Some of the children we questioned were visiting the Science Museum in London and were clearly eager to learn. One mother told us that if the questions had been about Egyptology or the Vikings, the children would have scored full marks.
LEE PEARCE, 11, from Colchester, Essex, is in year six at school. He does not attend church or Sunday School but sometimes hears Bible stories at assembly.
He says: 'I think Jesus had about 1,000 apostles, and Pontius Pilate was one of them. He was betrayed by a soldier and that's why he died. He was wearing flowers on his head when he was crucified. Roses I think.' JAKE PEARCE, eight, Lee's younger brother, is in year three.
He says: 'Jesus had 13 apostles but I don't know any of their names. He died because he wanted to save mankind. At school we did a play of Joseph and I was a dancer.' MOLLY DAVIES, eight, is from Deddington, Oxfordshire. She is in year four at school.
She says: 'Jesus died because of God's love and at Easter time we have eggs because they are a sign of new life. They're made of chocolate because chocolate is really nice and Jesus was a really kind person.' JACK DAVIES, ten, is Molly's brother.
He says: 'Pontius Pilate was the High Priest.
At Easter time we have chocolate eggs to celebrate new beginnings. They are made of chocolate because it's the next best thing to real eggs.' BRANDON McGIRR, four, lives in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. He is at nursery school.
He says: 'Easter is when you get eggs from Jesus because he was a very kind man.' SHANNON McGIRR, six, is Brandon's sister.
She is in year two.
She says: 'Jesus died on Good Friday and he was born on Easter Sunday. He had to die because the Egyptians were going to kill every baby boy.' BETHAN PROSSER, eight, is from Leamington Spa. She is in year three.
She says: 'On Good Friday, Jesus and his disciples had a meal.
Pontius Pilate was a Roman goddess and Jesus was killed because he believed in one God and the rest of the people thought there was more than one.' JAMES PROSSER, ten, is Bethan's brother.
He says: 'One of his friends betrayed Jesus. He made a deal for gold coins when Jesus was sleeping in the garden and sold him to a Roman soldier. I think he had to die because he was a Jew - or am I muddling that up with World War II?' BELLA HOWARD-EVANS, seven, is from Frome, Somerset. She is in year three at a Church of England primary school.
She says: 'Jesus had to die because the Prime Minister didn't like him.
He didn't like him because everybody liked Jesus and nobody liked the Prime Minister. At Easter we have eggs because chickens are born at Easter time.' PIERS BAKER, eight, is from Frome, Somerset. He is in year four.
He says: 'We have chocolate eggs to celebrate Easter because the tomb was empty and most eggs are hollow, except when they have chocolate buttons in them.
'Pontius Pilate was the emperor and Jesus had to die because he was doing bad things and it got on everyone's nerves.' SCOTT CULLEN, 13, lives in Tottenham, North London. He is in year eight at secondary school.
He says: 'God was pinned to the cross on Good Friday and he rose from the tomb on Easter Sunday.
He had a thorn bush on his head when he was killed.
'Today we celebrate Easter with hot cross buns because God ate a lot of bread.' SERENA FURNIVAL, seven, is in year three at a Roman Catholic primary school in London.
She says: 'We have hot cross buns at Easter time because they are made of bread and people ate a lot of bread a long time ago.' ACHASAH WEINREB, nine, lives in Somerset. She is in year four at school. Her name is of Ethiopian and Hebrew origin. Her family are not religious.
She says: 'We celebrate Easter because it was the last time Jesus had dinner. He had eight disciples and he was betrayed by John.
'When he died he had a crown of little spikes on his head. He had to die to do a favour to everyone.
'We have chocolate eggs to mark the occasion because it's also a celebration of all the daffodils coming up.' ZIBIAH WEINREB, seven, is Achasah's sister.
She is in year three at school.
She says: 'I can't remember Jesus's mother's name, it began with a J.
Jesus had to die because he helped a lot of people.' FREDERICK ALLDRITT, five, lives in London. He is in year one and has been learning about Easter at school.
He says: 'On Good Friday, Jesus died and on Sunday he was alive.
He had to die because he was friendly.' EMILY ALLDRITT, 13, is Frederick's sister. She is in year nine. Emily and Frederick are being raised as Roman Catholics although they rarely attend church.
She says: 'Jesus was betrayed by one of his disciples, I think it was Paul.
'He had to die because people didn't believe he was telling the truth - they didn't think he was God's son.' CLAIRE FINCH, 11, is from Colchester. She is in year six.
She says: 'Jesus was betrayed by Thomas, because once he died Thomas didn't think he would ever come back.' BRADLEY VICKERY, ten, of Benfleet, Essex, is in year five.
He says: 'Jesus had ten apostles but he was betrayed by Peter. He had to die because he was so popular and people thought he was being bad. He had holly in his hair when he died.' SITARA BHUNDIA, seven, is in year one at a London school. She is Hindu.
She says: 'On Easter Sunday, Jesus went to heaven. I can't remember who betrayed him, but I think it was the one who put him on the cross.' AMY SODEN, 15, is in year ten at a fee-paying Roman Catholic boarding school in Surrey.
She says: 'Pontius Pilate was some guy who worked on the council. He had 12 apostles. Are apostles the same as disciples? Yes? You learn something new every day.' ANNA DURBACZ, nine, is in year four at a school near Glastonbury, Somerset.
She says: 'I think Jesus was betrayed by John - no, maybe it was James - and he died because he wanted to show people heaven.' JOE THORNTON, eight, is from Deddington, Oxfordshire. He is in year four.
He says: 'I think Jesus was betrayed by Peter and he had to die because some people didn't like him and they thought he could do murders, so Judas got a lot of money for showing them where he was.' NIALL BAYS, six, is in year one at Cheshunt, Herts.
He says: 'We're off school at Easter because it's Jesus's birthday.' JESSICA CRIMIN, 11, is in year six at a London primary school.
She says: 'We have chocolate eggs at Easter because Jesus went into the desert and gave something up.
It might have been chocolate.' THE ANSWERS: 1 Jesus was crucified. 2 To save us from our sins.
3 Judas. 4 12. 5 A crown of thorns.
6 Roman prefect of Judaea. 7 The Resurrection. 8 Mary.
©Copyright 2002, Daily Mail (London, UK)