Public Sector: Ban Christmas? Not likely ..

Dean Martin would sing a different song today than It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas. Forget the 'candy canes', you know it's Christmas when you see media reports that a public body is trying to ban it. 'Political correctness gone mad' provides easy headlines for newspapers, reinforcing stereotypical views of the public sector.

According to the last census, 72 per cent of us profess to be Christians. Even professional atheist Richard Dawkins still claims to be a 'cultural Christian'. Banning Christmas is even more bizarre when you consider that Christmas lights in town centres do as much to bring business to shops as to celebrate the season.

So why score such a huge reputational own goal? The recent CIPR Local Public Services conference tackled this issue in a lively discussion on the theme 'Why ban Christmas?' Three key reasons for such stories emerged.

First, mischievous reporting of well-meaning policies. A fine example of this is a Welsh county council's ban on Christmas lights in council buildings because it had switched off two-thirds of the county's street lights to save money.

Second, poor communication of what public bodies are trying to do. 'Winter Lights' might be a good blanket name for a series of festivals that begins with Bonfire Night, encompasses the festivals of minority faiths and culminates with Christmas. But being seen to downplay the festival that is of most cultural - and economic - significance is guaranteed to interest journalists.

Third, there are still well-meaning people who think they are doing minority groups a favour by removing references to Christmas. This flies in the face of all the evidence. Representatives of minority faiths consistently say they have no problem with Christmas.

Christmas is Christmas. We can't disguise that fact. And nor should we. We cannot hope to build strong communities if we justify downplaying a major festival by reference to minority groups in our society.

Every Christmas, a Muslim butcher near my home advertises Halal turkeys. It is a lesson in unselfconscious multiculturalism from which we could all learn.

Rob Webb is comms manager, Monmouthshire County Council and a member of the CIPR Local Public Services Group

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