Thursday, 8 November 2007

What War on Christmas?

Every year about this time we read countless letters in newspapers complaining about how some unidentified "secularists" are trying to turn Christmas into a secular event, taking Christ out of Christmas, and generally behaving in a Grinch-like manner towards all things Christmassy. They rile against people who use terms like "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". But does this modern "war on Christmas" really exist or is it a figment of the imagination?

For as long as I can remember people have been wishing each other well using a wide variety of expressions, including Merry Christmas, Season's Greetings, Happy Holidays, Il-Milied it-Tajjeb or Il-Festi t-Tajba. There you go - some mention Christmas and some do not, just as they have always done. Why has it become an issue now? Why is it that all of a sudden, if one sends out a card which says "Season's Greetings" one gets frowned upon, or if said card shows a robin in the snow or a candle, it's a faux pas? There have been Christmas Trees, Christmas Logs, turkey dinners, tinsel and fairy lights - none of which have any Christian significance that I can determine - since long before I was born. They shared the space with cribs and nativity scenes quite happily for decades if not centuries. Yet all of a sudden, they're seen as a threat. Over the last few years, songs like Jingle Bells, Rudolph the red-nosed Reindeer or White Christmas are being seen as out of place in Christmas - just because they're not religious and they don't mention Jesus. Various personalities complain that these are removing us from the "true meaning" of Christmas. The fundamentalists who try to promote this idea of a secular war on Christmas rarely go to the trouble of confirming the validity of their claims. On the very day before Christmas last year, The Times' columnist "Roamer" regaled us with the story that in 1998, Birmingham Council replaced Christmas with a festivity called Winterval. Birmingham Council, their offices bedecked in a large banner proclaiming "Merry Christmas" to everyone and busy sending out cards with nativity scenes and the words Merry Christmas on them, were rather surprised to hear the news when it first broke. There was in fact an activity called Winterval. It was an attempt by Birmingham Council to drive more business into their renovated city centre, in 1997 and 1998, and certainly did not replace Christmas in that city. Of course like most rumours, it's easier to start one than to set the record straight, and despite almost a decade going by, Birmingham Council still have to respond to countless complaints each year about their anti-Christmas stance. Similarly, Luton Council has to deal with the annual controversy about the event called "Luminos". In vain they repeatedly explain that Luminos was a single event held one weekend in November 2001, and which had nothing to do with Christmas, let alone replace it. People still call to complain and ask why they were trying to replace Christmas with something called Luminos. A Scottish bank which instructed its employees not to place Christmas decorations too close to computer screens due to a possible fire hazard had to deal with complaints that they were attacking Christmas.

Take a deep breath everyone. Nobody is attacking Christmas. Nobody is trying to ban it, arrest it or deport it. Nobody's knocking on your door to make you remove the 150 kilowatt light display in your upstairs window. You won't receive a court injunction to take down your crib, or your tree for that matter. Christmas is this year what it has been since time immemorial - a time of happiness, having fun, meeting up with relatives, letting your hair down at an office party, exchanging gifts, and many other things. People will again this year celebrate it in different ways. So who's the one acting against the Christmas spirit of merrymaking? Seems to me that the only Scrooge characters around are those who spend these days grumbling about the fact that they received a card with Season's Greetings, and not the ones who sent it.