I wrote this on Sunday 2nd November and I’m buggered if I’m going to let a silly hosting problem stop me from publishing it again. Big thanks to Jon Bounds, who found the original in his Google reader archive. Lesson learned for me: back up, back up, back up…
Reading today’s Observer, I became worried for a moment that we’d had the wrong paper delivered. Christmas is axed in Oxford, read the outraged headline.
“Council leaders in Oxford have decided to ban the word Christmas from this year’s festive celebrations to make them more ‘inclusive’,” the article says. “But the decision to rename the series of events the ‘Winter Light Festival’ has been criticised by religious leaders and locals said it was ‘ludicrous’.”
Sound familiar? Yes, it’s exactly the same kind of moral outrage that put Birmingham into the spotlight ten years ago, when our Council decided to brand three months of winter celebrations and events – from bonfire night to New Year’s Eve – into one marketable festival: Winterval. Despite lights across New Street reading “Happy Christmas” and council-sponsored carol services taking place across the city, the tabloid press had a field day. The Bishop of Birmingham was quoted as saying Winterval was “a way of not talking about Christmas” and more than one commentator told us it was “political correctness gone mad”.
But no-one “banned the word Christmas” then, and no-one’s banning it now. In the very same Observer article that says Oxford’s Winter Light festival has “axed Christmas”, writer Rowan Walker quotes Tei Williams, press officer for the Winter Light Festival, as saying: “Winter Light … is a whole festival spanning two months. Within that will be Christmas carol services.” So, no-one’s axed anything, then.
I do find it strange that the Observer, of all papers, has jumped on this bandwagon, especially when these “anti-Christmas” fallacies are now so widely disproved. Even the Guardian – the Observer’s sister paper – published a feature two years ago explaining that the War on Christmas is no more than a myth.
But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. This week, in an article that called bloggers like me “winterval deniers”(!), The Birmingham Post’s Paul Dale says it’s all about perception. Whether these councils are right or wrong to use catch-all names like Winterval or Winter Light, it’s the fact that people perceive them as anti-Christmas that matters, he says.
He might have had a point if he hadn’t perpetuated the myth himself in the first paragraph. “Ten years after Birmingham City Council invited ridicule by airbrushing out the word Christmas from its official celebrations…” he wrote, ignoring the fact that this just isn’t true.
Paul goes on to admit that “the best explanation was that winterval represented a collective name for the events held from mid-November through to the first week in January” – this is true – but then continues, “to most of us, that’s Christmas.”
Is it? To me, the fireworks that we hear every night at the end of October and beginning of November are to do with Diwali and Bonfire night, not Christmas. The week after Christmas, going into January, is New Year’s Eve and the start of the new year… not Christmas. If the council wants to bring all of these events together and give them a catch-all name for marketing purposes, then “Christmas” is really not the right one.
(And besides, as Claire White was so right to point out to the Post, “you say Christmas is the right word for a season that lasts for weeks – and yet you, the mainstream media, moan every year about Christmas being too long or starting too early…”!)
So, is the Observer article just the beginning? Will the Winter Light Festival ensure that Oxford too will become a byword for anti-Christmas political correctness, or is Birmingham alone in having this nonsense thrown at us year after year? Put it his way: I’m pretty sure that in ten years time, Oxford will still be famous for its dreaming spires.