When you hear the words ‘Christmas’ and ‘controversy’, what do you think of? Heated debates about the merits of various turkey soaking methods? Some grumpy member of your extended family wanting you to wait until after lunch to open presents? Or maybe a sneaky sibling who’s pinched all the green triangles out of the Quality Street? It’s fair to say that Christmas isn’t particularly well-known for its stress-relieving qualities. But recent years have seen a pernicious rise of uproar about the language used to describe the festivities, adding to the stressors surrounding the season.
Proudly championed by right wing commentators, the term ‘War on Christmas’ surfaces straight after Thanksgiving in America to linger sulkily for the duration of December. Fox & Friends on Fox News point to the popularity of phrases like ‘Happy Holidays’ and the 2015 Starbucks red cup controversy as hard proof that Christian identity is steadily being eroded. One pastor exclaimed that the company removed “Christmas from their cups because they hate Jesus”. President Donald Trump has been grabbing headlines for his promise to “bring back” traditional holiday greetings like ‘Merry Christmas’. But we’d be naïve to think that this is purely an American issue.
School nativity plays across the country were lambasted by the Evangelical Alliance for the popularity of the song ‘Let it Go’ From Frozen’
Just last year 10 MPs proposed an official motion that “reaffirms the right of every person in this country to use the phrase Happy Christmas”, which I think we can all agree is an excellent use of taxpayers’ money. Really focussing on what matters here, lads. Great work. Similarly in 2014, school nativity plays across the country were lambasted by the Evangelical Alliance for the popularity of the song ‘Let it Go’ from Frozen. What’s that? Children enjoying themselves? Someone stop them.
If it seems strange that the least Christian country in Europe is throwing its toys out the pram, that’s because it is. Year on year, church attendance rates in Britain are in decline and more people identify as having no religion. In the meantime, however, plenty of other religious holidays like Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Mawlid-al-Nabi, Winter Solstice and Bodhi Day unfold around the same time as Christmas. Is it really all that strange that the phrase ‘Happy Holidays’ has gained popularity, then? Or is post-Brexit Britain so consumed with a singular national identity that the mere thought of people celebrating the importance of different days is too much to bear?
Alistair Lichten, education and schools campaigns officer at the National Secular Society, argues that conservative commentators are “Far from being fearless defenders of Christmas, they’re theocratic grinches … they stamp their feet when people don’t use their seasonal greeting. They get apoplectic when others dare to assign their own reason to the season. They fume when people don’t send their cards or visit their church.”
Is post-Brexit Britain so consumed with a singular national identity that the mere thought of people celebrating the importance of different days is too much to bear?
Choosing to overlook the environmental impact of Christmas, the “theocratic grinches” don’t seem to care that a Christmas dinner could be worse for the planet than a long haul flight. Nor do they mind that (according to Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti) much of the Christmas prep like writing cards, cooking, cleaning and wrapping presents still seems to be the responsibility of women.
So this year, why don’t we all just take a deep breath and let people celebrate what they want to celebrate. And in the meantime; enjoy the excellent telly, countdown to the Christmas number one, and having a drink before 10 a.m. Cheers.