MG Mason

Media and the Manufactured “War on Christmas”


I am no great fan of modern media. I have been intensely critical in previous posts, particularly on science reporting. This time of year, one particular story breaks on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s a contrived non-story designed to stir up fear with headlines like “Christmas is Banned”.

“The Muslims” Ban Christmas

Was it? And does it?Muslims

In Britain, “The Muslims” are attempting to get it banned (something that only the right wing media seem to notice) and in the USA it is “the atheists” trying to get it banned. Every year, as certain as we can possibly be that the Pope is still not about to convert to The Church of England, some paranoid story about rampant secularists and muslims rears its ugly head to scare Christians and non-Christians alike that because of them this might very well be the last one ever!

The most common “Muslims are out to ban Christmas” is this headline from The Daily Express in 2005 – yes, it is eleven years old and still doing the rounds! It was never accurate in the first place. It reports that Council Chiefs have banned Christmas after a series of complaints of offence from Muslims.

Hoax-Slayer is a superb resource for destroying nonsense and internet hoaxes and they have really pushed the boat out on this one. A report by a Channel 4 team investigated the story to find that the headline had no relation to the content of the story – in that year the council responsible had a Christmas Tree and all other events and traditions associated with the period. We are about to have our twelfth Christmas since this article first screamed into existence and no sign of a ban yet.

While it is possible and likely that a small minority of deluded individuals (who are themselves racist and bigoted) are offended at Christmas, there are many articles written by prominent Muslims who enjoy Christmas and are more than happy to say so:

And I am not alone in this opinion. All across the land, posters for halal turkeys in butchers’ shops in Muslim-populated areas such as Southall, Leicester and Birmingham stand testament to the significance Muslims place on this day.

Shamin Chowdury writes for HuffPo

But above all, the Christmas message of peace and love is one that we can all agree with, regardless of whether you are Muslim or one of the not-so-good religions. In this world it is easy to become selfish, greedy and thoughtless, only thinking of ourselves. But at Christmas time we should try to be more giving and sharing. Of course, we do this, symbolically, by the giving of presents

Adil Ray (writer and actor of “Citizen Khan”) explains why he loves Christmas

“Some Muslims will join in those celebrations, remembering too that Jesus was an important Prophet of Islam.

“Others will not join. But very few Muslims will be offended at the celebrations taking place, and no one should be obliged to change their celebrations at risk of offending Muslims.

The MCB speaks out as they do every year

Some of my favourite childhood memories are of Christmas day – the family round the table, my dad carving a huge halal turkey which we’d have ordered weeks in advance, heaps of brussels sprouts, sticky carrots and roast potatoes and a bottle or two of Shloer (our version of a, er, posh non-alcoholic drink) to pass around. We’d play Scrabble and Monopoly and watch the Queen’s speech, Top of the Pops and the EastEnders Christmas special. Sometimes my mum would do the Asian thing and we’d end up with 40-odd family friends joining us, which would mean less leftovers, but that was OK too. Last year, my Christmas-loving brother was in charge of the menu – he went so far as tracking down an organic, halal goose.

Human Qureshi explains how Christmas is a family time for British Muslims

Answering Islam has this explanation for both why some don’t celebrate but why many mark it in other ways

As much as I can’t stand the homophobic anti-secular campaigner Baroness Warsi, she says that Muslims can take a lot from Christmas

Those Pesky Atheists

So it seems that every year, some politically correct Jesus-hating atheist somewhere is trying to get Christmas banned. In the UK, it is the usual suspects of The Daily Mail and the Telegraph stoking the flames of right wing reactionaries. A couple of years ago, the website liberal conspiracy lifted the lid on the annual scaremongering of TDM “journalists”. Of course, if schools are not putting on traditional nativity plays then it must be because they are banned by them liberal atheists, right?

Well no. I’m sure we all remember nativity plays at school. They were awful and these days they get more and more abstract. Even when I was a small child some 30 years ago, they were rarely plays in isolation. They were often part of an annual school production. I remember playing Scrooge in a school play that was the main act at an evening of Christmas festivities.

The depth of the Mail‘s shit-stirring leads to The British Red Cross every year having to defend an article against the newspaper claiming that the charity banned it some time ago. While there is a reactionary population in this country believing that Britishness (and more importantly, our apparent deeply held Christian convictions) is under siege, then these stories will not go away. Never let a good old-fashioned victim complex get in the way of a good story. It is, in fact, a nothing story and the right wing media gets a lot of material out of this nothing every year.

A lot of the “political correctness” stories are nothing of the sort. Rather like the “It offends Muslims” statement above, the respective newspapers are twisting actual events. Businesses not holding Christmas parties are not doing so because of pressure, but because there is little interest from the staff or they are electing to go out for meals in small groups rather than having the big traditional Christmas party at work.

In the USA it is a slightly different story. The First Amendment (the rights of government(s) to endorse one religion or another) means that Christmas is often a battleground between those who think that nativity scenes should be excluded from public-funded buildings, and those who insist that Christians deserve special rights due to being the majority belief of the population. Unfortunately, a lot of these stories are based on a misunderstanding or has twisted the actual story so as to get an emotional response from reactionary Christians – rather like this story.

This atheist page explains the simple legal problem of Federal government mandating Christmas as a holiday. Is it religious? If so then making it a Federal Holiday is breaking the law. If it is a secular holiday, that will upset the Christians even more that they are “under siege” and stories like this become endemic

I don’t want to get into the legality of this, something that our American cousins will continue to struggle with for years to come, but I will say that I feel a lot of the problem surrounding “Christmas bans” on both sides of the Atlantic is not over an attempt to ban the holiday, but because some groups want everyone to mark it the way they want everyone to mark it. If you want to go to church at Christmas, I will not stop you but don’t complain when I exercise my right not to go to church and then argue back at theocratic bullies.

I am an atheist yet every year I watch Carols from Kings. I have CDs full of Christmas carols (my favourites are O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark the Herald Angels Sing) which I play in the car along with modern secular Christmas music.

Some of the world’s most prominent atheists have spoken out about their love of Christmas too:

I am perfectly happy on Christmas day to say Merry Christmas to everybody,’ Dawkins said. ‘I might sing Christmas carols – once I was privileged to be invited to Kings College, Cambridge, for their Christmas carols and loved it. ‘I actually love most of the genuine Christmas carols. I can’t bear Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and you might think from that that I was religious, that I can’t bear the ones that make no mention of religion.

So says Richard Dawkins in The Daily Mail

Families and friends are what create the celebration of the season, and especially in the US where we come from every corner of the world, where cultures freely mix, and traditions ebb and flow. We can see how celebration is truly a human phenomenon, independent of religion. I feel no sense of hypocrisy because I enjoy the many threads of my familial past. Nor do I shy aware from singing the familiar and much loved Christmas songs that I sang for years in choir or at home. Silent Night still can bring a tear to my eye because it recalls memories of childhood.

R. Elisabeth Cornwell

And there is even a book edited by atheist poster campaigner Ariane Sherine called The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas where prominent non-believing figures have contributed essays discussing their feelings about the season. They are largely positive, critiques of commercialism, starting too early and the tackiness – rather similar to the criticisms levelled by Christians.

So no, there is no concerted effort by atheists to stop you from going to church or having a Christmas Tree or even wishing us a Merry Christmas. You have your Christmas and let me have mine.

Happy Saturnalia, Christmas, Yuletide or whatever you are celebrating!