It wouldn’t be Christmas without news reports that some institution has ‘banned Christmas’, or eschewed any mention of it, for fear of offending non-believers and ethnic minorities. So, right on cue, a headline in the Mail on Sunday read: ‘Now Whitehall’s woke “blob” tries to ban Christmas: Ministers are warned using the word in festive jab drive will offend minorities.’
It wouldn’t be Christmas, either, without the haughty retort that stories of ‘Christmas being banned’ are typical right-wing nonsense, invariably peddled by the Daily Mail. In response to the Mail report, the HuffPost said that any attempts to ban the C-word were undertaken by the Cabinet Office, and not the ‘woke’ civil service, as the Mail had claimed. ‘Versions of this story traditionally come around every Christmas’, sighed the HuffPost, ‘but this year it manages to shoehorn in the term “woke”’.
The charge that banning Christmas is a tabloid fantasy or a case of ‘moral panic’ is a familiar one. ‘Winterval: the unpalatable making of a modern myth’, ran a 2011 Guardian headline. The article explained how Birmingham City Council never sought to rebrand Christmas as ‘Winterval’ in 1998 as a sop to ethnic minorities, as was widely reported at the time. Rather, it employed the term ‘Winterval’ to cover many December events in the city. The ‘Winterval myth’ was also debunked in a 2007 episode of QI, in which Jo Brand sarcastically joshed that ‘Winterval’ was ‘political correctness gone mad’, and Stephen Fry imperiously scoffed that the popular banning-Christmas narrative was ‘absolute bollocks’. It was all the fault of the Daily Mail, he added.
Paradoxically, the idea that this is all ‘absolute bollocks’ is itself a myth. The recent Mail on Sunday story may have been casual with the details, but it did expose something real: those in power still approach the C-word with trepidation and censorious intentions. Public mentions or allusions to Christmas have indeed been shunned or avoided in recent years, from Luton council banning Christmas trees in 2006 in favour of ‘Harry Potter-themed’ events, to a company handling UK cinema advertising banning a pre-Xmas Church of England campaign to promote the Lord’s Prayer in 2015.
Now, in the latest development, it was revealed this week that an internal EU guide ‘for inclusive communication’ recently said that all correspondence should replace the word ‘Christmas’ with ‘Holiday times’. The guide also featured other prohibitions, such as on using gender-specific titles to address people. It has now been withdrawn.
These ongoing episodes aren’t reactionary fairy-tales. Politically correct interventions have been going on for years, long before ‘woke’ became a controversial adjective. And just because ‘political correctness gone mad’ became a dreadful cliché, as ‘woke’ has become today, it doesn’t make such self-flagellating, liberal-left ostentation any less real.
The needless imperative to ban Christmas is always imposed from above by the well-meaning and hard-of-thinking. Thus it’s entirely fitting that the European Union – that remote, top-down organisation par excellence – should be the latest culprit here. It’s never ethnic minorities or religious non-Christians who call for such measures. They are usually bewildered by these initiatives.
Stories about banning Christmas shouldn’t be automatically dismissed as tabloid shibboleths. Nor should we ignore another unfashionable clichéd truth that bien pensants are scared to utter: that the EU is an authoritarian, meddlesome and egregious entity.
Not for the first time, the haughty accusation of ‘moral panic’ has itself turned out to be absolute bollocks.