I wish they would just ban Christmas so I don't have to keep pointing out that they're not banning Christmas

I'm getting bored of taking apart individual stories about the banning of Christmas now, but there's room for one more I suppose.

The story is in today's Mail (12 December), with the headline 'Christmas play axed in celebration of political correctness'. The most obvious thing to note straight away is that the headline isn't actually true. The Christmas play has not been axed in order to be replaced by some sort of celebration of political correctness. Children will not be singing songs about banning golliwogs, calling women Ms and renaming manholes 'non-gender-specific-person road entry access points'. They will be learning about Christmas alongside other religious festivals.

I wanted to have a look at this article because it's an indicator of an important strand of the 'banning Christmas' myth I haven't gone into much that has been focused on particularly by the Mail - and that's that Christmas is for Christians and should be celebrated only in a particular way. This school is having a Christmas celebration, but not one focused on Christians and the nativity to the exclusion of everything else.

One important detail that the paper is leaving out is that Knowland Grove Community First School is a non-denominational school. It has no obligation to celebrate one faith over another. Another thing the paper doesn't mention - and it quotes the school's OFSTED report at the end of the article, so it has seen it - is that the school's OFSTED report says:
Pupils' spiritual and cultural development are satisfactory and, although there are examples to be seen in school, both spiritual and cultural elements of learning need to be further developed, particularly aspects of multicultural education. The school is now planning to develop aspects, such as what different peoples believe and how they live, more in lessons as well as in assemblies.
So, there is a history in which the school has been criticised for not doing enough to explain other cultures and the Christmas celebration is part of an effort to address this. Now, you might argue that this is in itself an example of political correctness gone mad. Go ahead if you want to. But to argue that it's a part of a secular PC conspiracy to ban Christmas is stretching things a bit. Remember, this is a non-denominational school so it doesn't have to favour one religion and it is teaching about Christmas in its celebration.

An important fact comes characteristically late in the article (21 paragraph/sentences into a 23 paragraph/sentence article):
The younger two age-groups will present pieces on Christmas and Christingles while Year Two will perform a poem about Hanukkah and Year Three will explain Diwali.
This raises two issues. The most obvious is that Christmas takes up as much time as the other festivals put together. Another is that another major religion's major celebration is left out. Now this may be because Eid is closer in character to Easter than Christmas in that it comes at the end of a period of fasting - but the fact that it's Muslim and would therefore enrage people like the bastions of tolerance at the Mail could well be a factor.

This little nugget is not a direct quote from the headmistress like the two paragraph/sentences that precede it and the one that follows it, so we need to be careful and wonder what might have been left out. It could have included information that the presentation of one of the two younger age-groups took the form of a mini nativity play, for instance. Of course, this is idle speculation and it might have just been cut for brevity - but we really should be suspicious when a paper does something like that. The point I really wanted to make is that one of the direct quotes from the headmistress says:
"Our children have been singing carols and songs in the mall, our Christmas tree is up, and we will be sitting down to our Christmas meal this week," she said.
So, the Christmas celebrations in the school don't only include the presentation, but lots of other specifically Christmassy things like singing carols in the local shopping mall, having Christmas dinner and putting up a Christmas tree.

What the Mail is doing here is arguing that even institutions that are not Christian must celebrate a specifically Christian occasion in an exclusively Christian way. I don't want to delve too deelpy into the subject of whether or not Christmas is specifically Christian - but it really is a Christian appropriation of a Pagan midwinter celebration, many of the traditions we associate with it are Pagan, and a lot were imported from Germany in the late 19th Century. The reason these traditions were imported and that we didn't celebrate Christmas in a big way before they were is partly the result of Christians having banned the celebration as being UN-Christian a couple of hundred years before because of the Pagan influence.

The assertion that Christmas is only about Christians and that any mention of any of the other things we associate with it are examples of a conspiracy to ban it - is part of a wider push in many of the Mail's articles to make 'Christian' part of the default image for Britishness. It's also something the Sun has been attempting, but in such a hamfisted way as to make it even more obvious - arguing that a Carribean interpretation of a Carol's lyrics would be un-Christian even though the Caribbean is a predominantly Christian region while using a Pagan name to describe Christmas in the same article. British is supposed to equal Christian. We also see it in the Mail in the many articles about Nadia Ewedia or Aishah Azmi, where the assertion is made that this is a Christian country, for instance. This article employs the same tactic. It quotes a grandparent as saying:
We're supposed to be a Christian country and all our little ones should learn all about Jesus and Christmas.
The country might be Christian, but the school is not. Think about the implication made by the inclusion of this quote. We're supposed to be a Christian country, so every school - even non-Christian ones like the one in this article - should teach Christianity to its pupils to the exclusion of other religions or beliefs. Don't forget, the school will be teaching the pupils about Jesus and Christmas. They'll even be taught something I - as somebody who went to primary school back in the seventies when we were forced to do a nativity play and the local vicar used to pop round with a guitar to make us sing 'He's Got The Whole World In His Hands' - didn't know. I had to Google 'Christingles' to see what it meant. The Mail objects to teaching the Christian story alongside teaching about other faiths - even though the other faiths get half the time each devoted to Christianity.

What the Mail is doing in these stories is disguising an aggressive act as a defensive one. Often, the paper is actually attacking things that celebrate Christmas - just in a way the paper doesn't approve of. This school is teaching the Christian version of Christmas. The Royal Mail are producing special stamps to celebrate Christmas. Greetings card companies are producing Christmas cards. But the Mail want to ban them* in favour of things that only celebrate the specifically Christian aspects of Christmas in a rigidly defined way. So what the paper is doing (less in this article than others, as it does have a stronger argument concerning nativity plays) is characterising its own aggressive attack on the status quo (celebrating Christmas with images of Father Christmas, snowmen, holly, Christmas trees, robins, reindeer and with the term 'Season's Greetings') as a defence of a non-existent status quo (celebrating Christmas only with images of the nativity - and exclusively with the term 'Merry Christmas').

The Mail itself is arguing that traditions engaged in by the majority of the population be changed to accomodate the view of a minority. In short, the Mail is behaving in a way that it would otherwise characterise as PC.

* To use the Mail's definition of the word 'ban' as 'not do' rather than the more common actual definition of 'ban' as 'officially prohibit'.

No comments: