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24/12/07 It's a Winterval Life  
There are some things that always let you know it's Christmas. Stores full of video games. Stores bereft of the consoles necessary to play them. The first fall of snow on a Coca Cola advert while the rain drizzles outside. And of course, the seasonal rush on suicides. But my own favourite is the familiar, comforting sound of disgruntled, petulant clergymen complaining that nobody believes their fairy stories anymore.

This year's bleating bishop is an Anglican, proving that the Catholics don't yet have the monopoly on small-minded, childish intolerance dressed up as high-minded spiritual concern. While I'm (originally) of Catholic extraction myself, I do have a soft spot for the old Church of England, if only because it's the closest one can get to agnosticism whilst still technically being a religion. Highlights of this year's diatribe include the phrase "atheistic fundamentalism" (nice try, arch-bish, but it's unlikely we'll be seeing atheistic suicide bombers any time soon, since the lack of an afterlife would make that rather self-defeating) and the observation that some atheists view Christianity as "superstitious nonsense" (Some? I thought that was pretty much the whole point of atheism). Still, for a lifelong limp-wristed, wet-trousered godless liberal leftie like me, it's quite exciting to be called a fundamentalist. Makes me feel all dangerous and stuff. Grrr. Agree with my mad opinions or I'll make things explode.

But my favourite part of the rant was the obligatory reference to Winterval. This term, now invested with almost mythical significance, is at the centre of a storm of snorting indignation on the part of churchmen and other traditionalists who don't like to check their facts. The story goes that the politically-correct Christ-haters that make up Birmingham City Council have renamed Christmas to "Winterval" in order to avoid offending minority religions. I say story, because it's very much a story of the fictional variety. The truth of the matter, that Winterval was a promotional campaign for businesses encompassing a whole host of events and religious festivals, Christmas most prominent amongst them - not to mention that the whole thing happened ten years ago - is readily available from a whole host of sources, but is ignored year after year. And so it's mutated into a virulent urban myth of the season, trotted out by angry Christians and anyone foolish or senile enough to read the Daily Mail on a regular basis. The sad fact is that most people reading the archbishop's Blessed Rant will probably take the Winterval thing at face value, thus perpetuating it for another year. But for those of us in the know, it's rather entertaining to watch a senior religious figure building an argument around verifiably untrue information. Still, as someone rather wittier than me pointed out, it's probably not the silliest thing he believes...

I suppose I should say at this point - since I expect a lot of people reading this will be Christians, and I understand there's some sort of Christian festival going on at the moment - that I don't hate Christ, or religious people, or anything to that effect. I'm quite happy for you to believe whatever you like*, just as long as you're not going to raise hell about me not believing it. And you know, the more I read the word "Winterval", the more I get to like it. Partly because I'm fond of terrible puns, but also for its magical ability to enrage fundamentalists. So - though it's been said before, many times, may ways - Merry Winterval to you.


*Well, apart from Scientology. Look, you've got to draw the line somewhere, okay?
     
 
  The Christmas we get we deserve.  
© George Hutcheon 2007

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