Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Homosexual Frogs [6]

By now, everybody knows about the Winterval myth.

Local government is notoriously unpopular in the UK. While our income tax magically vanishes from our pay packet each month, we actually have to write a cheque for our Council Tax, so it feels like Real Money. So, at least since the days of Ken Livingstone, it has been prudent for councils to engage in a bit of creative PR: sticking the letters "GLC" or "The Mayor of London" on every bus, every dust-bin van, every library, every concert hall -- if possible, every boy scout hut and art class that gets council funding -- so local people are aware of how their money is actually being spent. Much harder to say "The council only cares about one legged black lesbians" if the library van that brings books to the old lady next door as "Bristol City Council" painted on the side in large, friendly letters.

And this, I take it, is what Birmingham Council did in 1998: came up with a logo and stuck it on every special event that it ran between October and December in 1998 -- not only the Carol Concert and the Christmas tree, but also Guy Fawkes Night and the Children in Need Telethon and, yes, Eid and Diwali and Hanukkah too. So that when election time came round and people said "what has the council ever done for me?" there was some chance that some of them would think "Well, they did organize the city firework display that the kids so much enjoyed."

However, the Daily Mail goes three times round the world before the Guardian has got its boots on, and there is now no chance of killing off the theory that Winterval was a new festival, invented by Herbert Marcuse and Jacques Derrida, intended to undermine the foundations of western civilisation and justified on the spurious grounds that Christmas is offensive to Muslims. (Which it isn't and it wouldn't matter if it was because this is our country and if they didn't want to join the Church of England they should go back to Iraq not that I'm one of them racists but I don't see why they should get special treatment, you never see white people getting special treatment, do you?)

Now, in previous years, when the Common Sense Brigade have tried to perpetuate the the Winterval scam, they have always pretended that Christmas had been prohibited: that Birmingham City Council, in thrall to the evil Communist Frankfurter had decreed that light-skinned people were not allowed to celebrate in the traditional, Christian way in case it offended dark skinned people. Obviously, since the September 11th terrorist attacks, the tabloids and the British National Party have started to use "Muslim" as a surrogate for "furriner". So they increasingly pretended that Birmingham City Council had cancelled Christmas "so as not to offend Muslims".

It need hardly be said that no-one has ever come up with a single credible instance of anyone ever attempting to ban Christmas, ever. Indeed, in recent years, German style Christmas markets have become popular so there are probably more Christmas trees, Santa Clauses and indeed Baby Jesi on English Streets than ever before. (The first English town to go in for Christkindlmarkts in a big way was, er, Birmingham.)

So. It was never about banning Christmas. (The original Winterval posters had bloody great Christmas trees on them, for Wotan's sake.) So what was it about?

Depressingly, the press release from Eric Pickles, picked up with gusto by the right-wing newspapers, has come very clean about the real agenda.

"I believe we should take greater pride in Britain's Christian heritage. We should celebrate the Nativity and all the traditions that have sprung up around Christmas from turkey and tree lights to tinsel and tea towels adorning the heads of infant angels and shepherds. I feel very strongly we should actively celebrate the Christian basis of Christmas, and not allow politically correct Grinches to marginalise Christianity and the importance of the birth of Christ."

Mr Pickles isn't suggesting that Christmas has been banned. Everybody knows it hasn't been. He isn't even suggesting that the Christian elements of Christmas have been banned: every chorus of the Little Drummer Boy blared out over every tannoy in every shopping Mall gives the lie to that. (Every angel on every Christmas tree, every supermarket which inexplicably runs out of tea-towels in December.) No: he is suggesting, from his pedestal as minister for local government, that Municipal Christmas should be more Christian. That elected local councils should "actively celebrate the Christian basis of Christmas".

Now, it seems to me that you can't have it both ways. Either Christmas is a Christian festival in the same way that Hanukkah is a Jewish festival, or it isn't. And either you want Municipal celebration to be inclusive, or you don't. If Christmas is a "Christian" festival, then Jews probably won't want to join in.

Jews are perfectly happy to eat mince pies at Christmas (provided they don't contain pork fat, which they usually don't.) The standard answer to the question "What do Jews do at Christmas" is "Exactly the same as you, only we don't go to church." But the more Baby Jesus works his way into Municipal Christmas, the less comfortable (I imagine) Jewish people are going to be with it.

Municipal Christmas has always involved some singing of Carols round the Christmas Tree, but Jews and Atheists probably don't might singing songs about Baby Jesus, even though they don't believe in Him. (They don't mind singing songs about Santa Claus, and they don't believe in him, either. Richard Dawkins himself claims to enjoy a bit of carol singing. He probably doesn't go to Midnight Mass, or if he does, he probably stays in his seat during the actual sacrament.) If you decide that your Carols Round the Tree are going to include some Bible readings, then you've started to identify it as a party for religious folks. If the local Bishop gives a talk, even more so. Throw in an open air Holy Communion, and it's become an exclusively Christian event. The Jews and the Atheists will mostly stay at home.

And get this: since the 1950 quite a number of people with dark skin have moved to this country, and quite a number of those dark skinned people have been Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. (Not all of them: there are a lot of Christian churches wouldn't have a congregation if it wasn't for Afro-Caribbean communities.) So the idea that Baby Jesus should play a bigger and bigger role in Municipal Christmas means that fewer and fewer of those dark skinned people would want to join in with it.

All of these things would be complete innovations: Baby Jesus has never played that big a part in Municipal Christmas. Its always been mainly about mistletoe and wine.

"The Political Correctness Brigade Has Banned Christmas" is code for "The Common Sense Brigade Wants to Exclude People Who Aren't Cultural Christians From Christmas" which is code for "The Common Sense Brigade Wants To Exclude Dark Skinned People From Christmas" which is very probably code for the "The Common Sense Brigade Wishes That There Weren't Any Dark Skinned People Here At All".

As ever, it is left to the Nasty Express to make this explicit.

" Last week, Rochdale Council provoked anger after it decided to celebrate Eid and Diwali alongside Christmas in a display of lights."

It was never the absence of Christian symbols that the Common Sense Brigade were objecting to. It was always the presence of anything else.

Kind of like what happened during the Nazi era.


Mike Taylor said...

While I mostly like what you're saying in these articles, I do think it's perfectly possible to interpret this:

"Last week, Rochdale Council provoked anger after it decided to celebrate Eid and Diwali alongside Christmas in a display of lights."

In a way that doesn't mean people object to the existence of Eid and Diwali -- only to the mixing of them with Christmas (and indeed with each other).

Gavin Burrows said...

Well Diwali is a Festival of Light so it doesn't seem a bad fit. (It happens over a month before Xmas though, so perhaps its all a plot to get the lights on early.)

If I were a Christian I think I would be more annoyed by the secularisation and transforming of it into a CounsumerFest, than by any overlap found with other religions. In fact, I'm not a Christian and I get annoyed by that anyway.

Maybe I should write a blogpost about how 'Christian' is just being used as a codeword for... oh wait. Beaten to it.

SK said...

Some are concerned by the secularisation, but there seems no way to be concerned by the secularisation (ie, to think that Christmas celebrations could do with being a bit less secular and, well, a bit more Christian) and not have Mr Rilstone think you when you say 'I think Christmas could do with being more Christian' you really mean 'I hate dark-skinned people'.

(Presumably any actual dark-skinned people who think that Christmas should be more Christian, let alone who complain about 'the politically correct brigade' making Christmas more secular, would have him spinning around with steam coming out of his head squawking 'Does not compute! Illogical!' before he explodes in a shower of Quantel. So it's lucky there's not likely to be any of them about, isn't it?)

Andrew Rilstone said...

I think Christmas could do with being a bit more Christian. I think that it would be a good thing if more people went to Church on Christmas day, and a very Good Thing if Vicars and Bishops were more inclined to preach about God coming down to earth as Baby to save us all from Satan's power when we had gone astray, comfort and joy, comfort and joy. I'd even be happy to have a civilised debate with the kind of person who thinks that Christians should abstain from all the worldy celebrations.

What I'm not as convinced by is the idea that minister in a secular government (speaking in his capacity as member of parliament) should tell secular councils that their should be more Christianity in their municipal celebrations.

And I cannot help observing that most of the people who would appalud the innovation of making municipal Christmas a specifically Christian affair are people that we already know, on other grounds, to be racists.

Is the idea that many secularists are Christians and many Christians are secularists really so difficult to get your head round?

gwenhwyfaer said...

"...doesn't mean people object to the existence of Eid and Diwali -- only to the mixing of them with Christmas (and indeed with each other)."

That sounds way too much like "separate but equal" for my tastes.

Sam Dodsworth said...

(It happens over a month before Xmas though, so perhaps its all a plot to get the lights on early.)

Putting the lights up and taking them down again is a significant effort, so why not put them up for Diwali and leave them up through Eid and Christmas? And in my part of London, as I've said before, the lights are sponsored by local businesses so there's an obvious advantage in letting the Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and agnostics all pay for one set of lights.

Phil Masters said...

Technical note; Eid is on a lunar calendar, I believe. Moves round the year.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Granted a town where there are, say, both Christians and Jews, then, so far as I can see, your options are:

1: Celebrate neither Christmas nor Hannukah: have no official celebration at all.

2: Celebrate only Christmas

3: Celebrate only Hannukah

4: Celebrate both Christmas and Hannukah.

5: Have a joint, ecumentical celebration of both Christmas and Hannukah.

6: Celebrate some third festival, which is neither Christams nor Hannukah.

If we've all happily been doing #6 for about a hundred years, and someone comes along and says "It's outrageous! "We" have suddenly started doing #6 to appease the flocking Jews" and "The flocking Jews have banned Christmas" and "We must unashamedly start to do #2, or else our Way of Life will be swamped by the flocking Jews" then one might, without absurdity, suspect an anti-semitic subtext.

Particularly if the people arguing the "only celebrate Christmas" line were, on other days of the week, running headlines along the lines of "99% of the human race says ban the skull-cap" "All terrorists are Jews" "Now, swimming pool makes us wear swimsuits to avoid offending Jews".

SK said...

'Is the idea that many secularists are Christians and many Christians are secularists really so difficult to get your head round?'

Not really. It's the idea that all Christians who aren't secularists are racists that gives me pause.

Andrew Rilstone said...

"Not really. It's the idea that all Christians who aren't secularists are racists that gives me pause."

Fair point. Let me know who said that, and I'll 'ave him for your.

Andrew Stevens said...

Phil Masters: Yes, to recap -

Christians - solar calendar, Christmas always falls on the same date in the Gregorian

Jews - lunisolar calendar, holidays won't fall on the same date from year to year, but will fall about the same time of year, give or take a couple of weeks

Muslims - lunar calendar, holidays constantly move from year to year, a holiday can occur in winter one year and the same holiday will likely be in summer 20 years later

Muslims simply do not have seasonal holidays the way Christians and Jews do.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Am I missing something here? Did someone put Eid decorations up with Christmas decorations even though Eid had been in July? (Which would be another funny example of political hypercorrection, if true.)

JWH said...

There are two eids aren't there, eid-al fitr and eid al-adha? eid-al adha was in November this year?

Sam Dodsworth said...

I'm pretty sure Eid al-Fitr is the important one from the point of view of celebration - that's the one that comes after the Ramadan fast.

But in any case, a quick look at Wikipedia shows both moving back through the September/October/November range over the last decade. Eid al-Fitr doesn't hit the end of July until 2014.

So, no, no political hypercorrection. Why would a local authority do that anyway, if they had enough of a Muslim community to bother thinking about Eid in the first place?

Phil Masters said...

Like I said, it was just a technical correction - Sam's suggestion that one could put lights up for Diwali and leave them up through Eid and Christmas isn't going to be feasible most years.

Sam Dodsworth said...

It's more of an observation than a suggestion - on my local high street, we have lights that go up in September, come down in early January, and show a mix of stars, crescent moons, and spirals. I expect the council's view is that they don't need a policy that will last for ten thousand years as long as they know what they're doing this year.

Sam Dodsworth said...

Although now I think about it, it's quite likely the lights are put up by the local high street association. Oh noes! Even the Free Market (peace be upon it) is infected with Political Correctness.

NickPheas said...

Umm, is that the concluding episode, or will the sodomite amphibians be returning in the new year?

Andrew Rilstone said...

There is a good chance that the special christmas edition will come out in the new year.