Some low-quality newspaper outlets pushed the idea for many years that the 'political-correctness-gone-mad' idea of Winterval was officialdom's replacement for Christmas. The sensationalist idea was that because Christmas has the word 'Christ' in it, then, modern secular governments and councils could not support it. But it was all nonsense. The true source of the story is that one event promoter combined several winter events (including Christmas) into one Winterval slogan, in order to create a simple marketing campaign.
The types of newspapers that peddle anti-foreigner nonsense took up the story with gusto. The Daily Mail repeated it the most between 1998 and 2011, a total of 44 times. The Times and The Sunday Times together repeated it 40 times, The Sun 31 times, The Express 26 times and The Daily Telegraph 22 times. The Guardian even mentioned it a few times however, it also ran several articles debunking the myth.
“[It was] gradually distorted to become [...] a pluralised, open-ended narrative that 'councils' and 'authorities' were rebranding or renaming Christmas as 'Winterval'. [And] a calculated attack on Christianity by 'atheists', 'Muslims', or the 'PC brigade' who feared offending 'other faiths' or 'ethnic minorities'.”
Eventually, in 2011, the Daily Mail, after years of providing infuriating misinformation, 'finally admitted that Winterval is a media fiction'1 and printed a small corrective notice2. When I first heard the story, I thought 'ridiculous' and didn't believe it was true. I spent a few minutes researching it, and found out that I was right to doubt. Therefore, my world-view was not distorted. Journalists broadcast their opinions to others; millions were convinced of the Winterval story, and enraged by it. It is downright criminal that failures in basic fact-checking can be so endemic amongst those papers.
Although Winterval was a false panic, Christmas has indeed been under attack many times, over the long centuries of Christianity - but most frequently in the West, by Christians who never accepted that they should re-role the ancient pagan festival in such a way3 - especially as early Christians celebrated Christmas in April and May4,5. Panics about Christmas have been so frequently that Rachel N. Schnepper writes in the New York Times that "anxiety over the War on Christmas is [itself] an American tradition"6.
The Guardian blogger Kevin Ascott counted headlines, and reported that the Daily Mail repeated the myth the most between 1998 and 2011, a total of 44 times. The story is associated with squarely with the serial instigator of hate, the columnist Melanie Phillips. It was mirrored by The Times and The Sunday Times together 40 times, The Sun 31 times, The Express 26 times and The Daily Telegraph 22 times. It's worth noting that one or two of those papers are assumed by many to be accurate and sensible. The Guardian even mentioned it a few times however, it also ran several articles debunking the myth.
“In one extreme example, the South Wales Echo claimed that Winterval was the result of 'virulent attacks on religion by atheists', which had led to 'new rules such as Christmas being renamed as 'Winterval'. [...]
In all, at least 15 articles directly claim that Christmas was renamed Winterval because of a fear of offending 'other faiths'. At least a further 10 articles directly claim that Winterval was used to avoid offending 'ethnic minorities'.”
“After years of perpetuating the Winterval myth, the Daily Mail Corrections and Clarifications column this week admitted it was all made up. It said: 'We stated in an article on 26 September that Christmas has been renamed in various places Winterval. Winterval was the collective name for a season of public events, both religious and secular, which took place in Birmingham in 1997 and 1998. We are happy to make clear that Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas.”
National Secular Society Newsline (2011 Nov 11)
“Now, thanks to perhaps one repetition too far, the Daily Mail has finally admitted that Winterval is a media fiction. But what impact will those few lines of correction have compared with the huge body of journalism that has been repeating it for so long as fact? And, more important, will Melanie Phillips offer her own apology for repeating the myth?
Christmas is a multicultural, multi-religious festival. It combines sun worship, polytheism, pagan nature religions who have venerated the natural cycle for many thousands of years, Christianity and other myths and traditions. When Christians complain it is too pagan, or when lay folk complain it is too religious, or when both groups complain it is too commercial, then they are all in need of realizing that Christmas is a commercial fusion of diverse nature-based festivals. The date of the 25th accords with Sun Worship thousands of years old, the Christmas tree and some of the decorations are pagan, even the Nativity stories are originally pagan, Mithraistic, Roman and Christian.
The main outstanding issue in the West is the Christian assertion that Christmas has something to do with the Christian figure of Christ or his birthday. These elements should be disclaimed. Firstly, the paganism inherent in Christmas, such as decorating trees, is warned against in the Bible (Jeremiah 10:2-4). Second, there are no Christian birthday celebrations in the Bible. Thirdly, early Christians celebrated Christ's birthday in April or May - it was only changed to match with 25th of December, a major pagan holiday, by Emperor Constantine, in order to harmonize Christianity with paganism. It is certain that Christians should not attempt to celebrate Jesus' birthday, and they certainly shouldn't do so at Christmas.
In addition to its rich history, Christmas has now become largely a secular holiday, a social festival based on the family, and a commercial enterprise. Critics largely concentrate of the portions of Christmas they don't like, and claim that those portions ruin the rest of it. As long as no-one tries to "capture the flag" and exclude others, then there need be no modern conflict over the nature of Christmas. The non-religious can celebrate the commercial and social event, Christians can pretend Christmas has something to do with Christ, pagans can celebrate nature, and all can be happy. There are even alternative and well-known names for Christmas, such as Yuletide, which can be used according to taste. Whether or not one choses to celebrate Christmas is often a matter of mood!
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