Winterval myth still alive and kicking

The Daily Telegraph was one of the worst culprits for repeating the Winterval myth and it has repeated it yet again. This time it was the turn of Peter Oborne – the Daily Telegraph’s chief commentator – who writes a very formulaic piece on how wonderful it is that a government is finally standing up for religion. It is something that has been written many times before over the last 12 years whenever a political figure talks about the perceived marginalisation of Christmas.

It is part of the ripple created by Eric Pickles who has mentioned Winterval twice this year as he attacked councils for being afraid of celebrating Christmas. It was a lazy, ignorant thing for Pickles to say, and an even lazier and more ignorant thing for Oborne to repeat. Here is the mention in full:

Meanwhile, Eric Pickles has used his growing authority as Local Government Secretary to declare war on councils who refuse to celebrate the Christmas message. Back in November, he sent out a powerful instruction that they should stop worrying about causing offence, abandon politically correct formulations like “Winterval” and “multi-faith holiday”, and return to the British Christian tradition with carols, mince pies, and all the rest of it. This common sense, it needs to be said, has not only delighted Christians, but has been greeted with relief by those of other faiths, who are fed up with being unreasonably blamed for “banning Christmas”.

When I was finishing my Winterval essay I wondered if it was a relevant topic considering that it seemed to be dying out. However, since the essay was published it has been repeated and is still being used as evidence for a non-existent war on Christmas.

Always someone stupid enough…

Towards the end of my Winterval essay I point out that the reason the myth was still around after 12 years was because there would always be a public figure stupid enough to repeat it. It is disappointing to be proven right as yet another public figure – the newly appointed Lord Michael Dobbs – repeats the myth in a tabloid newspaper [the Express]. He follows the traditional pattern: talk about maintaining ‘British heritage’, vow to fight the PC brigade and talk about how silly Winterval was:

Away with all the ­levellers and their ludicrous festivals like Winterval, let’s embrace Christmas in the way we’ve done for more than a thousand years, celebrating family and showing friendship to strangers. If the flat-earthers find themselves insulted by the fact that we take pride in being British, that’s their problem.

This person is now a Lord. And we think the people we elect are stupid.

If you have not yet read or shared the Winterval essay, please do. I have yet to receive any kind of response from the newspapers I contacted regarding it, but I might forward it again should any of them repeat it again.

Myths are bad, hmm-kay

As I tried to argue in my Winterval essay, media myths might start out as fairly harmless things. The newspaper might roll their eyes and laugh at the silly PC brigade, wondering what those crazy, sandal-wearing, lentil-munching, Guardian readers are going to do next, but there isn’t necessary real malice or real victims – given that there is no ‘PC brigade’. However, when these myths become part of a wider narrative – such as Muslims are intent on domination in the West and they are starting by banning Christmas and stopping Austrian men from yodelling – then the laughter stops and you realise there is a darker method behind the initial madness.

Sometimes the victim gets a chance to debunk a myth, and when they do the message needs to be spread as far and as fast as possible, which is essentially what this blog post is attempting to help with. The Red Cross have had a lot of people posting on their Facebook page ‘from people angry with us for “banning Christmas”, which we haven’t, and the story now seems to be spreading on some American websites’. And the source of this anger – along with the promise from certain members of the public that they will no longer be donating to the Red Cross because of this ‘ban’ – none other than the Daily Mail:

It turns out that these people have stumbled across an article that appeared in the Daily Mail in 2002 and now forms part of the paper’s online archive. Unfortunately, the article isn’t dated on the Mail’s site, which had led some people to believe this was a current news story – although references in it to Sangatte, the Calais refugee camp that closed in 2002, do serve to date it. We denied the gist of the piece strongly at the time.

The Red Cross blog continues:

The point is that the Red Cross is not a political or religious organisation. This neutrality is one of our fundamental principles and governs everything we do in the whole Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. It means that we can reach and help people in need, whoever and wherever they are. Often we provide help in countries that other organisations cannot or will not work in.
We cross front lines in times of war to help conflict victims and visit prisoners of war on both sides. We can only do this life-saving work because we are understood to be a completely neutral, independent organisation. Put simply, our neutrality saves lives.

We can’t let people in need down by compromising our neutrality. That is why we do not align ourselves with any particular political cause or religious creed anywhere in the world. And that’s why we don’t have any items of a religious nature in our shops.

The comments underneath the blog post demonstrate just how pervasive the myth that Christmas is being banned is, given that the clear explanation given by the Red Cross is ignored in favour of idiotic conspiracy theories. It is another example of why bad journalism matters: a charity is losing donations because of the lies told by the Daily Mail.

In other news, the BNP were back today and have an important message for us all [7th picture down].

I find the Pope’s lack of faith disturbing

The Daily Mail’s claims that ‘militant atheists’, the ‘PC brigade’ and ‘celebrity vendettas’ are out to destroy the Christian faith in Britain have been loud and clear for several years now, but the visit of the Pope has really drawn out just how ludicrous these claims are. It reminds me of the media narrative that ‘you can’t talk about immigration’ that has existed for years but was screamed loudly and repeatedly during the last election. As I pointed out at the time: the media, political leaders and the vast majority of phone-in shows, interviews and so forth were absolutely dominated by the topic of immigration. The media whilst claiming that they couldn’t talk about immigration, in reality filled front pages and reams and reams of copy talking about nothing but immigration.

This leads me to the coverage of the Pope’s visit. Whilst the Daily Mail claims that the BBC is a hotbed for left-wing atheism and obsessive negative coverage of the Pope’s visit – you know, for mentioning that the current Pope is directly responsible for the cover-up for the rape of hundreds, perhaps thousands of children – we actually have a huge amount of positive BBC coverage which actually drowns out – wrongly in my view – the child abuse, the Aids issue and the rabid homophobia of the Catholic Church. It is another media narrative that is completely false; the Daily Mail is equating justifiable public disquiet and protest for Britain being an heathen society deliberately setting out to destroy our ‘Christian tradition’.

The Pope – as The enemies of reason suggests – seems to have gained his entire knowledge of Britain from the Daily Mail and the tabloid press have predictably been loving every ignorant minute of it. The Pope claims that:

‘There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none.’

This is perfectly constructed nonsense that a tabloid newspaper would be proud of. Firstly, it is always ‘those’ people or ‘them’ in the context of this media narrative; we are never actually told who these people are or who they purport to be representing. Likewise, the people who might be offended are ‘those of other religions or none’, again, we have no idea who is actually offended, but in saying this the Pope appears to be certain that someone is arguing that that Christmas should be discouraged and that someone, somewhere is claiming offence at the festival.

Tabloidwatch has a brilliant round-up of the ‘Winterval’ stories that appeared in pretty much every tabloid newspaper following the Pope’s claims and it makes depressing reading. The myth that one council tried to replace Christmas with the more neutral title of ‘Winterval’ has been repeated every year hundreds of times in print, on TV, during phone-ins and so on as evidence that ‘they’ really are trying to ban Christmas. In reality Winterval was one council’s attempt to – you might say cynically – stretch out the Christmas period so that shoppers and revellers would enter the city centre and spend money not just during the traditional Christmas period but also in the weeks before and after. As the council made clear at the time – and makes clear every Christmas when brainless reporters start ringing for a comment: Christmas was the central part of the celebration and that:

During the part of that period traditionally celebrated as Christmas, “there was a banner saying Merry Christmas across the front of the council house, Christmas lights, Christmas trees in the main civil squares, regular carol-singing sessions by school choirs, and the Lord Mayor sent a Christmas card with a traditional Christmas scene wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.

The name Winterval was created in order to stretch the period the council and shops could milk Christmas without incurring the wrath of starting Christmas celebrations too early – something that ironically tabloid newspapers do not like. It was never created to replace ‘Christmas’, which, as the council makes clear, was the focal point – in all of its traditional garb – for the whole celebration. The name Winterval makes perfect sense when you consider that the Mail is already running stories this year on shops starting Christmas too early: ‘As the summer holiday kick off and the sun shines Selfridges launches CHRISTMAS grotto‘. Still, it is safer for Selfridges to start Christmas early than attempt to re-brand the period running up to Christmas because any attempt to do so would be used as more ‘evidence’ that THEY are trying to ban Christmas.

The worst part about the Winterval myth is that it is so clearly a myth. It has been debunked on so many occasions, one quick Google search and the truth is revealed; yet it has lost none of its appeal to tabloid readers who seem to believe it year after year. We will all see it trotted out over and over again this Christmas every time a piece of tinsel falls from an office ceiling it will be blamed on ‘those’ people that want to ban Christmas. If any council tries to save taxpayers money by not buying a 40ft Norwegian Christmas tree it will be because they are SCARED OF OFFENDING MUSLIMS.

And on and on and on.

This post wasn’t even supposed to be about this myth. It was supposed to be about why the Pope is a fraud.

The Pope is a fraud because – this is stolen from Bill Hicks before anyone slams me for stealing it – because he is supposed to be the supreme icon of religious faith in the power and protection offered by God… but he drives around in an armour-plated car. This just seems as if the pope is admitting that he has no faith in the protection of god and has instead turned to the evils of science for protection – which given his views on science is pretty ironic and hypocritical. Consider that the pope believes that condoms spread aids or at the very least they offer no protection, he is using his position to essentially kill people, take away their only protection against a sexually transmitted disease. Then consider that this same man is driven around in an armour-plated car and afforded every technological protection possible and you can start to see why I really despise him.

As for his rallying calls for the faithful to take up arms against science, reason and secularism I don’t think this is at all a christian way of approaching things. I had always thought that faith was supposed to be a very personal thing, that having faith was an internal process and didn’t need external reassurance – because that would dilute the real meaning of faith. It seems odd therefore that a man of faith even cares what other people think about faith or religion. Firstly, as a christian he should just turn the other cheek, and secondly, as a man of faith he should have no concern with what others think or how they act, external factors should have no relevance to internal faith.

God supposedly gave us all free will, yet here we have the pope trying to imply that such free will should be resisted and challenged, as if somehow the existence of science and reason was somehow damaging the internal pursuit of faith. If you really believe in god and the eternal afterlife of heaven, why would you care about worldly issues that have no impact upon your internal faith? Not to mention why would you bother armour-plating your car – if the pope fears death then what hope do other Catholics have about the afterlife?

The last two points I want to quickly make is that I find it highly amusing that the pope criticises the shallow pursuit of celebrity, fashion and fame… whilst he stands dressed in silly (not to mention obscenely expensive) robes, carrying a huge gold cross and wearing a huge gold hat whilst being the ceremonial head of an obscenely rich organisation followed by over a billion people. Whilst at the same time he is trying to act repentant about the terrible ‘shame’ the Catholic Church felt over the child abuse scandal, when in reality it is he who should feel ashamed, given how it was he who decided the course of action that the church took in response to child rape (hide it, move the priests on and excommunicate anyone who speaks out). In between these apologies he kisses as many babies as possible.