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Winterval Is Coming: Busting the Myths About Banning Christmas

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A number of things each year serve to remind you that Christmas is coming:

  • The Radio Times double issue going on sale in WHSmith;
  • Stacks of tinned Quality Street, Celebrations and Roses presenting a mobility hazard in Tesco;
  • The showing (or not as the case has been this year) of Elf on Channel 4;
  • Singing along (in a fake Irish accent) to The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl's 'Fairytale of New York';
  • Being outraged at the banning of Christmas...

I hadn't heard the latter this year until a week or so ago when I participated in a debate at the University of Birmingham. During it, a prospective parliamentary candidate for the conservative party informed the audience that Christmas was being banned "all over the country".

Horrified, I pressed him for details of where - given his inside knowledge - I left the event none the wiser.

And that's because Christmas isn't being banned. It never has.

Banning Christmas is a modern day myth perpetuated by those who have an axe to grind about 'Muslims' (it apparently 'offends' Muslims), have a similar axe to grind about our 'politically correct gone mad' culture (you know that 'political correctness' also doesn't exist, don't you?) or by those who are too stupid to know any different (dare I mention readers of certain tabloid newspapers and far-right organisations?).

Confronting the myth head on, the Muslim Council of Britain have this year commendably released two Christmas cards in an attempt to defiantly reassure the British public that Muslims don't want to ban Christmas. Poking fun at the inherently British 'Keep Calm and Carry On' slogan, the cards read:

"Don't Panic, Christmas is Banned" and "Keep Calm, It's Christmas" (You can see both here)

The origins of the Christmas is banned myth goes back to 1997 when Birmingham City Council's sought to create a campaign that encompassed Christmas, Diwali, the Frankfurt Christmas Market, Children in Need, the outdoor ice rink, New Year's Eve and various other city-wide celebrations. Preferring a single banner campaign, the outcome was 'Winterval', a portmanteau of 'winter' and 'festival'.

Despite the front page of the Council's Winterval brochure (which included details of all of the city's events including Christmas) having the word 'Christmas' on its front page three times - the street posters also prominently featured the word 'Christmas' - a local newspaper 'broke' the Christmas is banned story on 8 November 1998.

Within days, the story had gone national.

As the Guardian reported a few years ago, between the Times and Sunday Times the Winterval myth has been repeated 40 times since 1998, surpassed only by the Daily Mail repeated on 44 separate occasions. Elsewhere, the Sun has repeated it 31 times, the Daily Telegraph 22 and the Express 26. Tellingly, the Guardian has mentioned it just six times (a number of which seek to debunk the myth), the Daily Mirror just four.

Possibly more problematic than the mere repetition of the original myth is that, as with our conservative friend, the myth gets exported and mass-produced, endemic amongst a vast array of different - and nameless - councils and authorities all over the country.

Equally problematic is the way in which the original myth is also routinely and regularly updated and expanded.

So for example, one local newspaper recently claimed that councils had been given a set of "new rules" that enforce the banning of Christmas. Unsurprisingly, the newspaper failed to detail who created 'the rules' as also who might be required to enforce them.

A worrying part of this expansion is the inclusion of who is to 'blame' for the banning of Christmas. As the national newspaper articles referred to previously show, at least 15 of them directly claim that Christmas is being banned because it offends 'other faiths' (hence the Christmas cards from the Muslim Council of Britain).

A further 10 directly claim it is because Christmas offends 'ethnic minorities'.

Again somewhat unsurprisingly, none appear to be substantiated with evidence.

If nothing else, it makes you wonder just how many other stories the national newspapers perpetuate about 'Muslims', 'ethnic minorities' and others that are so inherently and evidentially untrue yet are still blanketly accepted by an unquestioning and uncritical public that in turn, continue to repeat them as unequivocal 'realities' and 'truths'?

Happy Christmas, Winterval or whatever you're celebrating this year - here's to a happy and informed 2014!

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