Daily Archives: December 10, 2006

A politically correct christmas?

There’s a minor furore going on in the UK now about political correctness and christmas. There are stories floating around of people being forbidden christmas decorations in a workplace, or being required to call it something nonreligious like winter-festival. And, while noone can confirm that any of the stories are for real (the most plausible is a story from 1998 that the hang-em/flog-em press is recycling in new garb), everyone agrees it’s nonsense, and they blame that mythical beast, the radical secularist.

Perhaps someone is missing a point here. Noone is offended by christians and families celebrating their festival. But there’s another side to it. Consider a conversation with well-meaning friend (WMF):

WMF: What are you doing for christmas?

Me: Working

WMF: Oh no! Surely you can’t be working? Aren’t you going to see your family?

Me: That means a journey of an hour on the bus and five to six hours on the train, at the worst possible time of year to travel. I’d much rather visit them in January when the buses and trains are running normally, as indeed I did this year.

WMF: Oh, that’s so sad. Well, can we invite you to christmas dinner at least?

Me: No thank you [struggle for an excuse based on difficulty of travel again – aided by darkness, likelihood of bad weather, and lack of buses]

Anyone who has been the subject of, for example, sexual harrassment, will by now see my subtext here: just ****** well leave me alone! Yes, christmas can be horrible, not because I’ve any objection to other people celebrating, but because they won’t let me stay out of it.

I want peace and quiet, and a chance to get some work done. I have to spend most of my days working, and I value my free time. Christmas is far and away the worst possible time not to be working, because I simply won’t get that quality free time:

  • As with all bank holidays, the Great Outdoors is crowded, and the people are more likely than at other times to be spoiling it with noise, litter, etc (because it’s a different demographic to the usual, and they’re out there for different reasons).
  • It’s too dark, with only 8 hours/day daylight.
  • People are under social pressure to have a good time. At the same time, there are no buses. So the roads are not only covered in holidaymakers; there are likely to be disproportionately many drunk drivers. Better to stay at home and work.
  • It’s a good time to work – quieter than usual.

Now, if anyone really has been banning christmas, that’s daft: they’re addressing entirely the wrong problem. But the unthinking reaction “it’s good or at worst neutral for everyone” is wrong, too. In this season, avoiding well-meaning but unwanted situations is a real problem.

Perhaps banning decorations in an office really can save someone a lot of pressure to conform, or intolerance of their refusal to do so? But better of course would be to require explicit permission from management, who will of course not refuse a request. That way those who care can decorate by permission, while others are spared harrassment.

The Archbishop of York has attacked these alleged secularists. Taking the charitable view, he’s probably just insensitive and ignorant, and would happily slip into the WMF role of harrassing people like me himself.