Kate Nicholas: Christmas is not offensive, materialism is

In the last PRWeek of the year, it seems appropriate to touch on Christmas, but perhaps for the sake of political correctness I should refer instead to that glorious Americanism ‘the holidays’. Certainly the C-word seems to be causing the now traditional festive stress in council PR offices.

Only a couple of weeks ago a junior official at Lambeth Council removed the word 'Christmas' from publicity for the switching on of festive lights. Unfortunately no one higher up the chain of command (presumably including the comms director) spotted this piece of paranoid political correctness, leading to the Daily Express headline: 'Christmas is Banned: It Offends Muslims.'

Elsewhere, council chiefs in Havant who planned to replace Christmas illuminations with a Festival of Light were visited by
a delegation of Sun Page 3 models, a man in a reindeer suit, a snowman and a human Christmas tree as part of the paper's Crimbo  campaign.

As Commission for Racial Equality chairman Trevor Phillips has pointed out, not only do such PC displays bemuse most people of other faiths, but Christmas is not racially exclusive. When Punjabi Christian Councillor Elias Mattu persuaded his council to reinstate Christmas lights in Wolverhampton, he pointed out it was probably easier for him to argue his case because he was Asian.

The Archbishop of Canterbury hit the nail on the head when he blamed 'well-meaning secularists, panicked by religious plurality'. The resulting response is unsophisticated and patronising, and misses the point that what offends most faiths is crass materialism.

So where is the voice of reason at yuletide? One hopes it resides in council comms departments.

In a recent PRWeek column (18 November), Verve Communications MD Lorraine Langham pointed to the Lambeth case as an example of council bashing. It may feel pretty raw being on the receiving end of a media lashing, but surely this proximity to media reaction should help local authority comms officers. They can point out that avoiding the C-word will invite ridicule and is likely to be perceived by faiths as misguided middle-class paternalism rather than respectful multiculturalism.
Interestingly, while the CIPR's recent study into the economic significance of PR looked at gender, ethnicity, nationality, disability and sexual orientation, it failed to analyse the faith-based make-up of the workforce. One wonders just who is countering some of the crazier ideas from councillors this yuletide. Happy Christmas.

kate.nicholas@haynet.com

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