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30 Nov, 2021 12:01

Christmas survives culture war for another year

Christmas survives culture war for another year

The debate about replacing the word ‘Christmas’ with ‘holidays’ has sparked up again in a row over British government messaging. This is not about ‘inclusivity’ – it’s an attempt to rebrand our culture that should be resisted.

It appears that officials working in the Cabinet Office believe that statements issued by the British government should not refer to Christmas on the grounds that it excludes members of the public who do not celebrate the holiday.

Civil servants who regard inclusion as a quasi-religious article of faith sought to block the slogan “Don’t take Covid home for Christmas” in a campaign targeted at university students and replace it with “Don’t take Covid home for the holidays.”

In the end, sanity was restored and, at least for this year, Christmas was saved.

What’s interesting about this incident is not simply that earnest members of the language police attempted to ban the word Christmas and replace it with the supposedly neutral and inoffensive term holiday, but that sections of the media elite think that those who make a fuss about it are over-reacting.

Writing in the Huffington Post, Sophia Sleigh dismisses those who are put off by the attempt of the Cabinet Office to ban the use of the word Christmas and describes the incident as a “nonsense culture row.” As far as she is concerned, this was just an attempt to make “an anti-Covid campaign relevant to those who do not celebrate Christmas.”

That dropping the word Christmas would make the Government slogan far less relevant to the vast majority of the British public is of no concern to the inclusion crusade.

During the past 25 years, there have been numerous attempts to de-legitimate the public status of Christmas. And every time people raise objections to the attempt to relegate Christmas to a marginal status, sections of the media react with incomprehension. Indeed, they frequently claim that anxieties about banning the use of the word Christmas have little basis in reality. They claim that the ‘War Against Christmas’ is an invention of right-wing culture warriors.

A lengthy essay in The New York Times, titled ‘How the war against Christmas was created’ offers a paradigmatic illustration of war-against-Christmas-denialism.. Anyone reading it would draw the conclusion that this war is a fantasy created by right-wing culture warriors like Donald Trump or the media personality Bill O’Reilly.

However, although Christmas retains the public’s affection, it is continually targeted by zealous advocates of identity politics. Take the decision of Birmingham City Council to refer to Christmas festivities as ‘Winterval’ back in 1998. The council justified its project of linguistic engineering on the grounds that it hoped to create a multi-cultural atmosphere in keeping with Birmingham’s mix of ethnic groups. After church leaders reacted disapprovingly to Winterval, the council unenthusiastically reinstated Christmas.

Since the Winterval incident, which occurred 23 years ago, the status of Christmas has become more precarious. Numerous commentators have held forth on the question of whether Merry Christmas should give way to Happy Holidays.

With the institutionalisation of the ethos of multiculturalism in schools, universities, the public and private sector, people are under constant pressure to adopt the vocabulary of inclusion. In some circumstances, the traditional Christmas party has been rebranded so that the event is uncoupled from its Christian association. In 2013, for example, one school in Texas decided to rename it ‘Winter party’.

Despite the attempt to deny that there is a systematic effort to de-legitimate the central status of Christmas, there is considerable evidence that this question has become fully entwined with identity politics. As one American commentator, Melissa Mohr, explained, “The practice of using ‘Merry Christmas’ is a fraught one. The choice between sticking with the traditional salutation or the more politically correct ‘Happy Holidays’ is riven by differences in ideology, age, geography and gender.”

“The person most likely to insist on ‘Merry Christmas’ would be a Republican man over 60 who lives in the Midwest; the archetypal ‘Happy Holidays’ proponent is a young (18 to 29) female Democrat living in the Northeast.”

Mohr observes that attitudes towards the debate about Christmas vs holidays are strongly influenced by political alignment. She cites a 2016 Public Religion Research Institute survey that found, in response to the question, “Do you think stores and businesses should greet their customers with ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Season’s Greetings’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’ out of respect for people of different faiths, or not?,” that 67 percent of Republicans said “No” and 66 percent of Democrats said “Yes.”

It is likely that today attitudes towards the Merry Christmas question are even more polarised. It is worth noting, too, that in the UK, the Happy Holidays brigade of the civil service has no difficulty in referring specifically to Eid in its messaging.

The issues at stake in this debate are not simply about the use of language or about respecting people of different faiths. The real debate is whether or not an important religious festival that is associated with the culture and tradition of British society should, like a statue of an unfashionable historic figure, be cast aside.

The attempt to disassociate Christmas from official and public life is linked to the wider project of uncoupling Britain from its past and rebranding the nation’s culture. This is an elite project which does not enjoy popular support. But unless we call out the attempt to dethrone the commanding role of Christmas, we will wake up one day to discover that something very important in our lives has been lost.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.