It’s on its way, the geese are getting fat, the weather is bad and any day now we will see reporting of several familiar seasonal rituals. A vicar or bishop will say that all churches should be deconsecrated and turned into community centres; a town council will replace the word Christmas with ‘Winterval’; and a school headteacher will refuse to hold a traditional nativity play.
In fact, it has already happened and it’s only December 1st. A headmaster, or whatever they are termed these days, has banned his school nativity play, giving reasons more than usually cringing and lily-livered:
‘In a multi-ethnic environment, it causes problems,’ he wittered.
‘Last year we had a Christmas concert and some parents insisted on having carols. The Muslim children didn’t sing, they just stood there, absolutely rigid. It is not nice watching a child not singing, or worse, being called down from the stage by their parents.’
Many people might think the answer to schoolchildren not singing in a Christmas concert is to make sure in advance that they know the carols well, and if they then refuse to sing them punish them severely. And if their parents make trouble over that, threaten their offspring with permanent exclusion. But people with those thoughts should probably keep very quiet.
Just to make give himself extra cover against such objections from the reckless, the teacher invoked the power of ‘Health & Safety,’ claiming that so soon after the Paris attacks such a ‘provocation’ as singing traditional carols in a school would be ‘too dangerous.’ Therefore, his school’s annual Christmas celebrations have for the first time this year been moved to January and re-christened a ‘winter concert.’
Surprisingly this challenge to Christian religious tradition did not take place in England and wasn’t reported in The Sun. The head was one Marco Parma of the Istituto Garofani di Rozzano school, a large institution south of Milan, with over a thousand pupils, at least one fifth of them foreign born and Muslim. Earlier this year he also ordered the removal of traditional crucifixes from classrooms, despite their presence being required by Italian law.
The annual Christmas self-hate by liberals is no longer related to English eccentricity and post-colonial guilt. It’s a pan-European festival of remorse and cultural entropy. Last year, secularists in France started removing cribs from public buildings in what has become known as ‘the nativity war.’ A court in Nantes ordered regional authorities in the western town of La Roche-sur-Yon to remove the crib from its building’s entrance hall, after a complaint from a secular group.
The mayor appealed against the decision with the support of national politicians including the Front National leader Marine Le Pen, who described it as ‘stupid and blinkered secularism.’ The local senator, Bruno Retailleau issued a statement saying: ‘Next we’ll be banning epiphany cakes at the Élysée Palace.’
Being France, it all quickly became very academic and complex. A sociologist, Jean Baubérot, claimed the upholding of France’s religious neutrality had become increasingly aggressive and was aimed at Islam. The problem of Islam is always in the mix somewhere. He seemed to want a crack down on all religious expression, but regretted the way it affected Muslims.
‘The anti-Islamic climate is causing a crackdown on other religions,’ he said. ‘The law is the law, and cribs are a religious symbol that has no place in a public space.’
At the end of November, this year there was a new call by the Association of Mayors of France for councils to refrain from placing cribs in town halls, followed immediately by a rebellion among its members and yet another debate about national identity in the wake of Charlie Hebdo and the Paris attacks.
Mayor Robert Ménard, who was elected as an independent with support from several far-right groups, argued that the scene was not religious, but cultural. He was recently criticised for compiling a list of Muslim children in his commune and posing in front of a poster of a pistol saying it was the new best friend for the police. He told L’Express magazine that he is not religious and that the crib is cultural because ‘our country has a Christian culture.’
The key Christian festival of the year, also enjoyed by most western secular people, is now a centre for cultural breast-beating, guilt and turmoil. This often seems to have little to do with the presence of Muslims in Europe, who are so often pre-empted by self-hating western vicars and school teachers.
In the UK, we inherit a lot of our current unease about Christmas from America where political correctness mixes with worship of mammon. The customer is always right in the US and much of this equivocation is about money. Popular non-religious aspects of Christmas, such as Christmas trees, lights, and decorating are still prominently showcased in the USA with spectacular window displays in their department stores, yet Wal-Mart, Macy’s, and Sears now greet their customers with the nauseating ‘Happy Holidays,’ rather than ‘Merry Christmas.’
In recent decades in the public sector, corporate world, and the federal government, mention of the term Christmas during the Christmas and holiday season has declined and been replaced with a generic term, usually ‘holidays,’ to avoid referring to Christmas by name and to be all-inclusive of minority observances such as Hanukkah and, probably due to fashionable guilt about slavery, the west African ‘Kwanzaa.’
Not everyone takes the assault on Xmas lying down of course. On Tuesday, there has been an example of guerilla Christmassing; in the town of Redmond, Seattle. Residents were alarmed and perplexed to find anonymous signs emblazoned with the words ‘It’s OK To Say Merry Christmas’ posted up outside a school in front of Seattle City Hall and, even more outrageously, near a mosque. To make things worse, the signs are printed with a biblical passage and on the opposite side, a picture of a nativity scene that includes a star that looks like a cross.
In a vox pop report on Fox News, a young woman complained rather strangely about the ‘stereotypical nature of the nativity scene.’ As I write this, no one as yet has taken them down.
The Italians can also be obdurate about these things and they are not yet as greedy as the owners of US department stores, or the average British consumer, or so anxious about what other people think of them. As in Spain, Yuletide in Italy is more a family time than an orgy. Perhaps that explains their simple and decisive response to the removal of the Christmas carols.
Unworried by specious arguments, Social democrat Prime Minister Matteo Renzi condemned the headteacher: ‘Christmas is much more important than a headmaster being provocative. If he thinks he is promoting integration and co-existence in this way, he appears to me to have made a very big mistake. Discussion and dialogue does not mean to say we can drown our identity for the sake of a vague and insipid form of political correctness.’
Missing out any mention of Italy’s rapidly growing Muslim population, he added: ‘Italians, both non-religious and Christians, will never give up Christmas.’
His words show that in Italy there are still enough people proud of their culture and traditions, strong enough in their identity as Italians to refuse to be cowed. They meant that he and his people will never give up being Italian, rejoicing in their own history, art, cuisine and cultural traditions.
For a few of us in the UK, the ritual of Christmas is a religious festival, for most it is about a frenzy of online shopping and gorging on substandard food which begins somewhere in mid-October, abates on Remembrance Day, then begins again with relentless ferocity, building up to a frenzy of frivolity and chocolate guzzling in advent, which used to be a season of sobriety and mourning.
But whatever its individual shape now, trashy or tasteful, as an institution Christmas is still as palpably important and integral to our culture as St. Paul’s cathedral and Radio 4. We should look very carefully at the motives of those who wish to change, modify or deny it, and resist them at all costs. Never mind peace and goodwill, we need to imitate the Italians for once, and hang on to every vestige of our traditional Christmas that we can.
(Image courtesy amanderson2, Flickr)