For Christ's sake, it's Christmas
An invitation from our editor to go for a "Winterval" drink left Michael Bywater hung up on semantics
I'd love to "meet for a pint or two over the winterval/festivus period" but only if we can decide what the hell to call it. Your sideswipe against joke PC nomenclature hits upon a very interesting point.
Surely, if anyone should refer to Christmas as "Christmas", we should: atheists, or secular humanists, or rationalists, even if we can't decide what to call ourselves. Because if one thing is essential to rationalism, it's calling things by their proper names.
"Winterval" was of course a little PR stunt dreamed up nine years ago by the burghers of Birmingham, who were just trying to drum up business, and good for them. Christmas, Diwali, Hannukah, Eid ul-Adha, Bonfire Night: pack 'em all in. Why not? The truth is probably that nobody cares particularly as long as there's a midwinter knees-up or five, and everyone has a good time.
"Festivus" was Seinfeld, wasn't it? Pretty damn accurate, too, what with kicking off of the celebrations with the Airing of Grievances – the core rite of every festival, religious or secular, which involves getting everyone together round the table.
But the grit in the seasonal oyster is the (un)holy alliance between the aggressively and prescriptively religious and the equally aggressive but hysterically non-prescriptive "social relativists".
This leads to a grim sort of realism (in the philosophical/technical sense) which in turn produces an almost instinctive, utterly misguided, respect for – or fear of – naming particular things.
Christmas is Christmas. The reason we all have this hole in the year, this Airing of Grievances, this riot of spending and disappointment, is because Britain is not just nominally but officially a Christian country which celebrates, on 25 December, the Mass of the Nativity of Christ. Not because it once was Geol. Not because Dickens foresaw the Islamic migration and decided to tee us all up in An Eid ul-Adha Carol but was persuaded by his publisher to change the title. It was because it was Christmas.
Calling it anything else is silly, patronizing and deceptive. Call it Winterval, Festivus, Chrismukkah or anything else simply doesn't work: the meaning leaks through.
Suppose we suddenly woke up to the social absurdity or injustice whereby women can wear what they want but a man who wears a frock in public is committing an offence. Would we decide not to talk about frocks any more, but "unitrousers", as though this would make it okay? Given that we believe murder to be one of the worst things a person can do to another, should we dodge the possibility of giving offence by charging people, not with "murder", but with, say, "stimp"? No. Because ontology is sticky and, whatever the cheese-eating surrender theorists may have said, changing the name would not change the thing. (Discuss)
Christians celebrate Christmas. Muslims observe Sacrifice Day, Hindus celebrate Diwali, Jews celebrate Hanukkah. I don't know any even marginally sane adherents to any of those creeds who find the mere naming of another religion's festival as "offensive".
As a friend of mine said: "It's bloody silly. I'm a Muslim, which is not spelt 'm-o-r-o-n' and doesn't imply an emotional age of four. I mean, what am I supposed to say? 'You mean there are Christians? Who celebrate Christmas? In Britain? In the name of Allah, get me out of here!'?"
There's never been a more important time in history to call things by their proper names. Christmas is Christmas is Christmas, just as a rose is a rose is a rose. Stat rosa pristina nomine; nomina nuda tenemus, and nuts to Winterval, balls to Festivus, Happy Holidays go hang and "Season's Greetings" be damned; who the hell ever said "Season's Greetings, ho ho ho"?
Mine's a pint. (Or should I say 0.5682 litres?)