Winterval: The beast that wouldn't die!

Winterval.  It's probably one of the most famous PC Gone Mad myths there is.  Just like every teacher told the story of someone at their last school who leant on the back legs of their chair and broke their back to scare us into sitting properly, the papers have used Winterval alongside classics like Baa Baa Green Sheep to scare us into not thinking about things like inclusiveness or bothering to be polite to people if they're not white, male, British, straight or able-bodied for over a decade.

Unfortunately for the papers and assorted other blowhards who had been merrily chucking out Winterval since 1997 to make us all think that being nice to people different from the cast of The Good Life means banning Christmas, the myth as been exposed for what it is.  In 2006, Oliver Burkeman took the unprecedented step of actually bothering to ask Birmingham Council what actually happened, and the final nail was hammered into the coffin in 2008 when the man who came up with the whole idea popped up at The Virtual Stoa and confirmed that yes, Winterval was just a marketing exercise and no, it didn't replace Christmas, which went ahead as normal.

Still, we know from the Mail's reaction to news that the story about how kids have to wear goggles to play conkers was a hoax, papers need a bit more than a story being exposed as rubbish to stop referring to it as if it were true. 

Although Winterval has been used less since the whole idea was exposed as being not true, there were still mentions of it in the papers in 2009.  Mostly it's referred to in a jokey offhand way by people mucking about, like Dave Baddiel in the Times in 'All I want for Christmas is a festive pop song', or the Independent's 'The week in radio' but there were still a few proper scaremongering mentions, mainly in the tabloids.

The broadsheets were not completely innocent though.  Even the left wing ones.  The Guardian published 'Jesus in Islam' by Medhi Hassan in the Comment is Free section.  Although he was careful to call things like Winterval 'alleged attempts by "politically correct" local authorities to downplay or even suppress Christmas', he managed to forget to point out that these stories were made up, and explain that the motive behind these non-existent attempts was shonky.

The Telegraph cluded 'Children need exposure to Christmas commerce', which says:
As Professor Buckingham concedes, "the commercial world is not going to disappear" – but we shouldn't try to tame it by education or legislation. It's as much a part of the British Christmas now as the multicultural killjoys who insist on calling it "Winterval", or Nativity plays in which Mary and Joseph have been replaced by Troy and Gabriella from High School Musical.
I don't think this hack was trying to undermine their own piece by claiming that the commercial world isn't part of Christmas.  This is despite the paper explaining what actually happened with Winterval the day before in 'Christmas: a brief history'.

The Times mentioned Winterval at least semi seriously twice, once in 'A Sikh celebration in Wolverhampton', which like Medhi Hassan's Guardian piece only attacks "the annual newspaper tradition of political correctness gone mad stories about local authorities erasing references to Christmas in favour of “winterval”", without pointing out that the newspaper tradition is based on hogwash, and once in 'Atticus', which mentions "The Christmas — or should that be winterval? — party of Harriet Harman" because it shoud be called Winterval by Harriet Harman because she's like, Labour and that, and Labour call Christmas Winterval, geddit?

This brings us neatly onto the tabloids, and specifically the Sun, which also covered Harriet Harman's party with reference to the 'W' word.  Now, Sun journalists are apparently noted for their brilliant abilty to come up with snappy headlines that are clever and funny at the same time.  So imagine how happy I was to see my wording from last Christmas's, 'Here comes the non-gender specific parent of Winterval' stolen by such inventive masters of the English language in 'Ho ho no...it's non-gender specific parent Winterval'.  Especially as my one took massive digs at the Sun for inventing Winterval type stories.

Sun journalists are also famed for their ability to make things short and snappy, and how they can condense what a broadsheet journalist says in a whole article down to a half sentence of words of one syllable or less, or something, which doesn't explain why the exact same joke the Times managed in two very short paragraphs is expanded to a whole article plus patented Sun 'fucking shit' Photoshop wankery here.  Still, this one isn't really a serious mention.  I'm just sore that someone nicked my wording and used it for evil.

If you want textbook mentions of how Winterval is normally used, see November's "most probably exaggerated PC Gone Mad but I can't be arsed to check" scare story, 'Youth couldn't make it up' about how a young offender's insitute had banned the word 'youth', which says:
Previous PC language changes include substituting "winterval" for Christmas, so not to upset non-Christians, and saying "outcast" instead of "black sheep", in case it is seen as racist.
Textbook, that.

Non tabloid journalist Ed Hussain also manages to make a proper mention in the Sun, in 'Let's all celebrate Christmas.  I will', which says:
But when British people get jittery and shy away from Christmas and want to use meaningless language such as "Winterval", we compromise what is best about Britain - a multi-faith country and culture informed by a Christian ethos and history.
Winterval was concocted by Birmingham City Council in 1997 without Muslims ever saying Christmas was a problem. Indeed, Birmingham's Muslims were among Winterval's strongest critics.
Winterval was also concocted without ever suggesting that Muslims had a problem with Christmas.  The clue that they didn't think anyone had a problem with Christmas is the fact that they, you know, still had Christmas.

Finally, we come to the undisputed champion of the Winterval mentions in 2009, and it's not the World's Worst And Second Worst Newspapers.  The Star and the Express didn't make a single mentione 'W' word.  Neither did the Mirror.

Everyone's favourite peddler of reactionary dog-poo came up with five  - coun't em - five serious mentions of Winterval as if it were true.  In date order, we have:

'Council renames Christmas festival 'Midwinter Celebration' sparking PC row' (which I covered in 'How to write a 'Christmas is under attack' scare story') which says:
First, there was 'Winterval'. Now a churchman has criticised a council for holding a 'Midwinter celebration' instead of a Christmas event for families.
The row has echoes of the furore in Birmingham in 1998 when the city council renamed its Christmas festivities 'Winterval' to try and reflect the diverse nature of the city's population.
Umm...oh no it didn't!

'Tinsel Taliban strikes as Court Service ban staff from decorations to avoid offence' (covered by Tabloid Watch in 'Philip Davies and the Mail: the real PC obsessives'), which says:
The Conservatives have long accused Labour of bowing to PC concerns over Christmas - such as the famous example of Birmingham rebranding the religious festival as 'Winterval'.
Which was bollocks.

'ARCHBISHOP JOHN SENTAMU: Corus, Cockermouth and why we must be proud of 'Made in Britain'', in which the paper's favourite 'we're not racist, honest' reactionary figleaf says:
Some would even have us believe that the mere mention of 'Christmas,' risks offending those from other faiths and minority groups in Britain. They suggest we should say, 'Festive Greetings,' or 'Happy Winterval'. No we should not. We should shout 'Merry Christmas' from the rooftops.
Oh no they don't!

'Forget those who say religion's irrelevant. Spirituality is making a comeback - and thank heaven for that', which says:
Some observers suggest the swing back to traditional Christmas celebrations is an antidote to the poison of political correctness that would have Christmas replaced by a Winterval or some such other non-Christian nonsense.
Ah, the irony of reacting to something that doesn't exist by turning to worship something that doesn't exist.

Finally, ''Bonkers' police drop the word Christmas from poster to avoid upsetting other faiths' - this is probably the closest we'll get to a real live actually true story about people omitting the word 'Christmas', although it would be for marketing reasons about including everyone and the fact that we're talking about more than just Christmas in this poster rather than to avoid upsetting people (the actual person responsible for making the decision is handily not quoted) - still, the story says:
In 1997, Birmingham Council was derided by Christians for using ‘Winterval’ as the name of its official Christmas festivities, which involved inter-faith events.
The first half of that is true.  Birmingham Council really was derided for those reasons - but they were bollocks.  The second half is rubbish, because the Christmas stuff was just Christmas stuff.

Winterval is still an enduring myth, whether it's to muck about with in jokes or to use to frighten people.  The way both 'serious' and stupid papers return to it even after it's been exposed (not to mention the way that most people will know what you mean if you mention it) is testament to how powerful these myths can become.  The ideas of Winterval, Baa Baa Green Sheep, Person-hole covers, banning black bin liners and the term 'black coffee', banning crucifixes and hot cross buns - and even the idea of making kids wear goggles to play conkers - are all part of the public conciousness.  I bet everyone you ask wil be familiar with the idea of at least three of these, and chances are quite a few will believe they're real.  Even though none of them are actually are.

Why do you think the papers constantly try to come up withg new ones?


Anonymous said...

Okay, I've had this debate before, but this time, I'll try to keep my hat on.

In 1999, I was on placement for my PGCE 3-11 in a Nursery at a school in West Yorkshire where 99% of pupils were Muslim. And a small number of the middle class Muslim children in the Nursery did get upset by things piggy.

By like everything else that this Nursery pretended to do in response to Muslim 'problems', the response was half-hearted. Yes, they did Three Little Pigs instead of Three Little Sheep. But in the minature play farm area, there were little plastic pigs and kids played with them. But not doing one story is hardly a crime against Western culture, is it?

But here's an illuminating anecdote. When I was taking the class full-time, a Mum tried to insist we not teach her son that pigs go 'oink', because it was offensive to Muslims. I refused, arguing it was no such thing, at which point she admitted she knew as much, but her son had discovered that oinking was a way of deliberatly upsetting his Grandfather, much to the child's delight! How I managed not to laugh, I'll never know.

PH said...

Having volunteered a lot on youth/young people projects, I can exclusively reveal that "youth" usually means 16-25 or thereabouts, and "young people" means a rather broader age range that includes under 16s.

So presumably "youth" has been replaced in documentation because it was inaccurately used, as far as the accepted definition of the word within the sector goes.

Must have cost the taxpayer tens of pounds to use the search and replace tool on documents that probably needed updating anyway.

Yeti said...

I was at a Christening a few weeks ago and the Vicar was bemoaning Schools banning nursery rhymes like Baa Baa Black sheep.

By the way, I think I know the origin of the Baa Baa green sheep myth. As a parent and an uncle I've spent a bit of time in nurseries.

Baa Baa black sheep on it's own is over in about 20 seconds. To extend the song more verses are added using different colours (pink sheep, yellow sheep, blue sheep etc) culminating in Baa Baa rainbow sheep. You don't tend to see that explanation in the tabloids.

Have a look at this facebook group:

Anonymous said...

This year's story which I think has legs (because I saw it being used even before the Winterval(ha!) season was over was Cameron's politically correct Christmas cards which has 'season's greetings' instead of Happy Christmas.

Now everyone knows that season's greetings has been used for decades but I can guarantee this will be there next Winterval...oh, and I did try to post in the Mail comments about Winterval. Red arrows resulted mostly.

Anonymous said...

Once we are past Halloween we canget on with planning Winterval fun.