Beginning earlier each year – this year it officially began on July 27th when I saw my first Christmas card for sale in a shop – the rampant commercialism of Christmas is such that if we are unable to get the latest Playstation/ Wii/ X-Box (delete as applicable) we will be officially deemed ‘bad parents’ by one and all by the morning of Boxing Day. Our consumer tendencies don’t even get a rest on Christmas Day itself either. Last year, whilst 2.8 million people attended a Church of England service, 3.7 million logged onto the web to spend more than £52 million in the ‘January’ sales. Maybe they were all looking for the Playstations, Wiis and X-Boxes they couldn’t find beforehand. All pretty depressing.
Something much more entertaining and fun are the now obligatory ‘PC gone mad’ stories that regularly pepper the tabloid newspapers. In recent years, the tabloids have proclaimed that ‘Now Christmas is Banned’ and lest we ever forget Birmingham’s very own ‘Winterval’ debacle from the late nineties. What then will offend or outrage this year? Whatever it is, here’s a simple analogy that will assist all and sundry to ‘get over it’.
Imagine for a moment that you’re in your local Asda/ Morrisons/ Sainsburys/ Tesco (again, delete as applicable). At the end of the aisle you see a ‘try before you buy’ display. Usually, it’s something that you would never normally buy – let’s say prawns in strawberry compote for example. As you walk closer to the display, you begin to weigh up whether or not you want to indulge yourself. You ask yourself whether you’re in the mood for prawns and strawberries.
On approaching the display, the assistant welcomes you and offers you a free sample (typically accompanied with a money off voucher – let’s be honest, no-one’s going to pay full price for it). As they do, you choose to either indulge and enjoy, or politely say ‘thank you’ and move on. Irrespective of your own choice, you’ll accept that somebody else may make the opposite decision. Rarely though – if indeed ever – would you be outraged or offended.
Last year when in M&S, I was offered me some champagne. I neither got upset nor outraged. Instead, I just said ‘no thanks’ and left the champagne for those far more desperate than me to have a free sip of alcohol on a Friday lunchtime.
Christmas, Eid, Diwali, Vaissaki, St Patrick’s Day, Pride et al are – in many ways – very similar to the prawns and strawberries in that they are not always to everybody’s taste or preference. Whatever’s on offer though, you have the choice to either politely say ‘thank you’ and move on or indulge yourself and enjoy. You can even be downright rude by ignoring the offer and stomp off muttering various curses and swear words under your breath. No offence, no outrage and you may even – metaphorically at least – get a money-off voucher.
I the past I have tried a bit of everything: Holi in Tipton, Eid in Small Heath, Christmas in Stourbridge and St Patrick’s Day in Digbeth amongst others. This is not to say that everyone has to do this or that I want to be a part of any particular ‘culture’. Instead, I just like ‘trying’ even if I’m not ‘buying’. On the other hand, I also accept that some don’t like to ‘try’ – we all have that right not to as well.
In our increasingly diverse society, wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just do this and not just offer some kneejerk ‘PC gone mad’ reaction when we see one or other group, community or culture doing something different? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all respect each other’s differences without being threatened or fearful of them – or even believing that they are trying to ‘replace’ or ‘substitute’ those things that we hold dear?
So in the true spirit of Winterval, I wish everyone – as and when they apply – Merry Christmas (Joyeux Noel, Feliz Navidad, Wesółych Świąt etc), Shubh Diwali, Happy Ayyám-i-Há, Eid Mubarak, Happy Hanukah, Joyous Samhain, Vaissaki greetings and anything – or anyone – I might have overlooked.
Everything on this site by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. www.chris-allen.co.uk.