Winterval

23/12/19

Winterval is one of the most infamous “war on Christmas” stories from 1997. It is still regularly trotted out as an example 20 years later. The genesis of Winterval was Birmingham City Council wanting to celebrate Christmas, Diwali and Chinese New Year as one big celebration, instead of redecorating the city every couple of weeks for each event. The period included lots of 'Christmas' themed events and the word 'Christmas' was used prominently in their advertising. Despite this, the story of a town that has a large South Asian population, rebranding 'Christmas' as 'Winterval' was picked up by the usual media reactionaries and became a 'War on Christmas to appease Muslims'. In 2006 Birmingham City Council took out a national newspaper advert to reassure the world that the city does celebrate Christmas.

Winterval was never an attempt to rebrand Christmas, it was just a large umbrella to have a few different celebrations, including Christmas. Part of the celebration was the Christmas light switch-on and the city's Christmas markets; all advertised with 'Christmas' in the name. But, the idea of a war on Christmas has continued ever since the reactionaries had a tantrum over Winterval. Most recently, in the US, Trump has claimed that we can now say “Merry Christmas” and claims that you couldn't before. Phrases such as Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays were actually coined when Christianity was the dominant faith in the U.K. and the US and has nothing to do with secularism. It was really just an extension of the vocabulary to incorporate the New Year celebration.

Since 9/11 and 7/7 the accusation is that authorities are somehow pandering to Muslims by making these changes, because they do not celebrate Christmas (many Muslims do). It plays into larger conspiracy theories where some people believe that Muslims are trying to force their religion on to western countries through stealth despite there being no evidence for this. Similarly, people react to stories about Sharia Law in this way too, despite Sharia courts having no jurisdiction in U.K. or US law. This is all tied up with ideas around the Great Replacement theory that we covered in a previous fact.

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