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We Wish You a Merry Winterval… Earlier this year, the council of the multicultural city of Birmingham changed the name of its Christmas festivities to Winterval, causing widespread consternation from the church to the BNP. Joe Rinaldi Johnson rips off the shiny wrapping paper, and tells us what it’s all about

(1) Thank God it's nearly Christmas again. Time to journey home, laden with festive gifts for my loving family. (2) Thank goodness it's the Primary Gifting Period ("PGP") again. Time to journey home, laden with imported Chinese goods wrapped in Amazonian-sourced paper, for my genetic relations and their close associates. Spot the difference? If you didn't, they're both describing the same event, but (1) makes use of a set of redundant culturally-embedded meanings and the other doesn't. What’s my point? Let's find out. Christmas is the time of year in the UK where Christians and Torygraph readers alike harp on about how much Christmas really means to us as a nation. To most of us, it means rest, turkey, tinsel and telly. Lovely! So when I heard Birmingham City council had renamed its winter festivities to Winterval, I applauded. For why should we have Christianity forced down our throats at every opportunity? There are two main reasons given. The first comes usually in the moaned chorus of, "but it's tradition!" But is this really a reason? It was once “tradition” for wealthy families to own slaves, and for women to be denied rights. Most likely they will riposte with "ah, but this is different: Christmas is fun! You don't have to join in anyway (scrooge!)". Of course, if you've ever tried explaining to your girlfriend or younger brother that you aren't going to participate in an archaic, wasteful, environmentally unsustainable cultural institution because you can't find a satisfactory moral, ethical, or rational explanation for its existence, you'll know the second part of that statement isn't quite true (I warn you, don’t try Valentine’s Day). Besides, many things are seen as fun;

Scrabble (although debatable), Fox-hunting (very contentious) and Happy-Slapping (criminal behaviour to most of us), but we don't make them into national institutions. Of course, most of us haven't even tried any of them, so we won't ever know for certain whether they are fun or not. Oh, but Christmas, that's different… Is it? Couldn't it be just as fun to try doing Hajj, Hanukkah or Yule one year? No? On what basis can you make such a rejection? I think the words of the venerable Dr. Pepper might do you good: "you've got to try it to love it.” We could never have dreamedup the fun things we do today without being open to new experiences, and I think we should try the same thing with Christmas. Perhaps this year we should celebrate Agnostival, and rather than chairs for the festive dinner, we could all sit on a seasonal fence, before muttering a noncommittal version of 'the Lord's Prayer.’ Or maybe we'd all be better off rotating Christmas with festivals from the other main religions. Because let's face it: they can't all be right, so the majority of mankind is going to hell. At least by celebrating a different festival every year you can hedge your bets a little. The advent of the Primary Gifting Period shows clearly the disjunction between the form and the content of Christmas. For many, it's merely a heightened commercial period. Bank governors anxiously scan sales at Christmas for any indications of consumer slowdown and ordinary workers look forward to the extra bank holidays, the Christmas bonus and perhaps the office party. If this is all Christmas is, why not get something more out of it? We have the Barclays Premiership. Why not have McDonald's Winterval 2007? The sponsorship could go to charity if you like.

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Scrabble (although debatable), Fox-hunting (very contentious) and Happy-Slapping (criminal behaviour to most of us), but we don't make them...

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