One of the things that binds Britain with America is a modern obsession that there is somehow a conspiracy of secular progressives and fundamentalist muslims seeking to destroy Christmas. This week we have had the predictably dishonest O'Really ranting on about it (he has been forced to apologise on air for suggesting that a school district in Texas had banned red-and-green clothing) over here and you have had a rather phoney survey showing that 75% of workplaces apparently won't have decorations up because of fear of offending somebody or other – cue the usual bletherings in the Daily Hate Mail.
I offer three observations on why the idea that there is some sort of concerted attack is complete guff, and that the idea that this represents some sort of threat is nonsensical.
First, there is a complete and utter lack of fact behind any of it. As Oliver Burkman shows in today's Guardian, the repetition of these stories is not apocryphal, it's not hyperbolic, it's not even misleading it's downright... what's the word I'm looking for here? Oh, I know, it's downright lying.
Lie no 1 – Birmingham council has replaced Christmas with a festival of “Winterval”.
Fact – Winterval - which ran in 1997 and 1998, and never since - was a promotional campaign to drive business into Birmingham's newly regenerated town centre. OK calling it “Thank goodness we've got rid of the Bullring” might have reflected the local populaces' attitudes more accurately but that probably isn't as catchy. It began in early November and finished in January. During Christmas there was a banner saying Merry Christmas across the front of the council house, Christmas lights, Christmas trees in the main civil squares, regular carol-singing sessions by school choirs, and the Lord Mayor sent a Christmas card with a traditional Christmas scene wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. The first three things you will see on their home page http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/ are “Birmingham at Christmas”, “Carols in the City” and just so that even Richard Littlejohn can keep up “Birmingham at Christmas”. So -er – clearly it's been abolished.
Lie no 2 – Luton has replaced Christmas with a Harry Potter themed celebration called Luminos
Fact - Luton does not have a festival called Luminos, nor does it use any alternative name for Christmas. Five years ago, at the height of Harry Potter mania it held something called Luminos. It was in November. It didn't replace that year's Christmas celebrations. So – er – that's not true either
Lie no 3 - The Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children banned a Christmas CD for mentioning Jesus.
Fact – not only did they not ban it, they made it available at their Christmas Carol Service.
Lie no 4 – The Royal Mail have broken with tradition to issue “non-denominational” Christmas stamps (i.e. Robins, snow, Santa – that sort of stuff) rather than spiritually themed one.
Fact – the Royal Mail has alternated between religious and secular Christmas stamps since they introduced them in the 1960s. The first Christmas stamp was a child's drawing of Santa.
And so on and so on.
To be fair there is one story that seems true and irrefutable. A librarian in High Wycombe has refused to allow a poster for a carol concert on the notice board, as they had rules stating political or religious announcements were forbidden. So the corroborated, practical effect of this war on Christmas is a librarian being officious in Buckinghamshire. Hmmmmm.
Concocting a comforting theory and then rummaging around for a ragbag of half-truths to support it doesn't constitute journalism as commonly understood, but does fit the modus operandi of the Sun, Mail and Express, and I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised if this sort of thing turns up in the thinking of the sorts of -erm - “individual thinkers” who also consider holding the EU to be the ten-horned beast in Daniel 7 (as opposed to the usual corrupt, shambolic exercise in national self-interest that supra-national institutions mutate into) as a fundamental of faith, but the rest of us should adopt a bit of common sense, I would suggest. Hardly a war, more a sort of “Dad's Army shooting themselves in the foot on Christmas”.
The second observation from the UK is that there are a few, a very few, nutters who genuinely do want to abolish Christmas as a prelude to destroying Christianity. But such people really have far less influence than they hope, or the war-mongers fear. I have worked pretty consistently now in uniformly liberal workplaces (to the extent that my wife claims I work for PC World (boom boom)). In that time I have known one person suggest that Christmas celebrations were somehow exclusionary. They were shouted down by the assembled multitudes – Guardian readers to a man – oops – person, and told to stop being so silly. So if they make no headway amongst me and my lefty chums, where exactly are these 75% of offices not having Christmas decs.
Ah yes this 75% in the survey. This survey was by MORI was it? ICM? Gallup? YouGov? Actually no, by a group called Peninsula. A thrusting new research company specialising in opinion surveys and stuffed to the teeth with polling experts? Er- not by the look of their website. http://www.peninsula-uk.com/. They seem to be a business services group – you can outsource your HR department to them - and of course they are in no way be looking to get some publicity by making a bit of a splash by having some noteworthy results and stuff the appropriateness of their methods. No, no, no absolutely not, it is the pure science of the endeavour which appeals to them. Interestingly, there is no sign of the survey that they used, what the questions were, who they sampled etc etc, nor even the results in a sensible form – but they do have lots and lots and lots about the press coverage they got. Double Hmmmmmm
So the proponents of the idea of a war on Christmas are lying (or to be charitable have not bothered to check their evidence properly), and the genuine Scrooges are few and far between and have little influence. But if they were to be successful it would be a big threat, right?
Well the evidence from over here is dubious about that. The commonality of the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays” in the US is completely at odds with its tremendous religiosity. Seattle is supposed to be the most secular city in the US, and Tunbridge Wells is about as religious as England gets, and yet church attendance (I know it's not the same thing as being a Christian) is, I would estimate, somewhat higher, here. So, certainly in terms of outward religiosity, use of “non-denominational” language here (which seems to be perfectly honest very culturally dissonant and irritating to my British ears) doesn't seem to be having a massively negative effect on the church over here.
I've always seen Christmas as a bit problematic for Christians. It is after all something of a syncretism with e.g. the pagan Robin Goodfellow and the Christian St Nick moulded into Father Christmas and then overlaid with the entirely capitalist Santa Claus (that red comes from the Coca-Cola cans kids – well sort of). There seems a lot that we should worry about in the gluttony, drunkeness, greed, debt, and misery that Christmas has become in the west. In the face of this tilting at such an obvious windmill, in the company of an entirely dishonest and disingenuous bunch of Sancho Panzas strikes me as a waste of time.