By Vexen Crabtree 2013
"The Worst of the Modern Mass Media" by Vexen Crabtree (2009) (an analysis of UK news outlets)
Some low-brow newspaper outlets pushed the idea for many years that the 'political-correctness-gone-mad' idea of Winterval was officialdom's replacement for Christmas. The sensationalist idea was that because Christmas has the word 'Christ' in it, then, modern secular governments and councils could not support it. So, the types of newspapers that peddle anti-foreigner positions took up the story with gusto. The Guardian blogger Kevin Ascott reported that the Daily Mail repeated the myth the most between 1998 and 2011, a total of 44 times. The Times and The Sunday Times together repeated it 40 times, The Sun 31 times, The Express 26 times and The Daily Telegraph 22 times. The Guardian even mentioned it a few times however, it also ran several articles debunking the myth and in 2011, the Daily Mail eventually faced its critics and admitted that it was wrong.
“After years of perpetuating the Winterval myth, the Daily Mail Corrections and Clarifications column this week admitted it was all made up. It said: 'We stated in an article on 26 September that Christmas has been renamed in various places Winterval. Winterval was the collective name for a season of public events, both religious and secular, which took place in Birmingham in 1997 and 1998. We are happy to make clear that Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas.”
National Secular Society Newsline (2011 Nov 11)
The true source of the story is that of one event promoter who combined several winter events (including Christmas) into one Winterval event in order to simplify marketing. From the Guardian:
The myth was not just repeated, either. It was also gradually distorted to become ever more removed from the original misconception. What started as a myth that one council had rebranded or renamed Christmas became a pluralised, open-ended narrative that 'councils' and 'authorities' were rebranding or renaming Christmas as 'Winterval'.
It then mutated from a simple rebranding to a calculated attack on Christianity by 'atheists', 'Muslims', or the 'PC brigade' who feared offending 'other faiths' or 'ethnic minorities'. In one extreme example, the South Wales Echo claimed that Winterval was the result of 'virulent attacks on religion by atheists', which had led to 'new rules such as Christmas being renamed as 'Winterval'. [...]
In all, at least 15 articles directly claim that Christmas was renamed Winterval because of a fear of offending 'other faiths'. At least a further 10 articles directly claim that Winterval was used to avoid offending 'ethnic minorities'.
So now, thanks to perhaps one repetition too far, the Daily Mail has finally admitted that Winterval is a media fiction. But what impact will those few lines of correction have compared with the huge body of journalism that has been repeating it for so long as fact? And, more important, will Melanie Phillips offer her own apology for repeating the myth?
www.guardian.co.uk (2011 Nov 08)
When I first heard the story, I thought 'ridiculous' and didn't believe it was true. I spent a few minutes researching it, and found out that I was right to doubt. Therefore, my world-view was not distorted. Journalists broadcast their opinions to others, and it is downright criminal that failures in basic fact-checking can be so endemic amongst them.
All about Christmas: The menu of "The True Meaning of Christmas: Paganism, Sun Worship and Commercialism" by Vexen Crabtree (2008):
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The Guardian. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper..