Tuesday 8 November 2011

Mail admits 'Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas'

On Monday 26 September, Melanie Phillips wrote a column in the Daily Mail that appeared under the headline 'Our language is being hijacked by the Left to muzzle rational debate'.

In it, she repeated false claims about the BBC's position on BC/AD. And she also said:

The pressure on Christians, however, is merely part of a far wider onslaught on Western culture through the hijacking or censorship of language.

Thus Christmas has been renamed in various places ‘Winterval'.

The Winterval myth has been repeated every year for over a decade as revealed in Kevin Arscott's excellent 2010 essay on the use and abuse of the term Winterval.

As Steve Baxter writes:

Winterval was the politically correct way of referring to Christmas; it was taking Christ out of Christmas; it was part of the PC killjoys' attempts to de-Christianise Britain and bring us all into an Iron Curtain world of secularist misery. The myth kept on coming back -- every year, at Christmas time, or before.

James, a regular reader of this blog, decided to contact the PCC about Phillips' claim. He had tried to make a complaint last year when the term appeared in the Express, but when Richard Desmond withdrew his newspapers from the PCC, they decided to drop the complaint.

Winterval had been used by couple of people in 2011 prior to Phillips, including fellow Mail writer Nigel Jones who said 'Christmas becomes Winterval'. But his column only appeared online. James wanted the Mail to admit in print that Winterval was not what the Mail and other papers had been claiming for years.

So he emailed the PCC on 25 September after Phillips' article was posted online. Once again the Mail took over a month to respond, but a letter signed by Executive Managing Editor Robin Esser finally arrived on 27 October. It began with an apology for the delayed reply and then said:

I am unsure what the complainant has to do with the piece about which he is complaining.

Does the PCC consider it is a matter of accuracy, as he does?

And that tone continued for much of the rest of the letter:

The nit-picking suggestion that the term "Christmas" refers only to Christmas Day cannot be supported by anyone with a modicum of common sense. And Phillips did not say the term was intended to replace Christmas Day. 

This is a bizarre statement, given that it is denying an accusation that wasn't made. It's true that Phillips never said the 'term was intended to replace Christmas Day' - but James never said she did.

Then, on the substance of the complaint, the Mail said:

there is plenty of evidence to show that the term "Winterval” has been bandied about as a replacement for Christmas, as Ms Phillips says, in various places...

There were complaints at the time from Christian leaders that this was a politically correct attempt to avoid talking about Christmas and thus to destroy the Christian association with the season.

Subsequently, lt became commonplace in the media to refer to the replacement of Christmas by 'Winterval'. 

The Mail was trying to argue that references to Winterval in the media backed up Phillips' claim that Christmas had been renamed in 'various places'. They enclosed a clippings file of such stories, none of which provided evidence for what Phillips had said.

The letter concluded:

I would urge the Commission to take a rational view of this complaint and reject it.

In response to a complaint pointing out Christmas has never been renamed Winterval, the Mail dismissed James' interest in the story, and strongly implied he was nit-picking, lacking in common sense and irrational. In his reply, he made very clear that he objected to the Mail's 'unhelpful' attitude. He also spent some time pointing out what Winterval was and how the myth had been debunked by people such as Mike Chubb, who actually coined the phrase.

The next reply from the Mail was markedly different. They repeated that when Phillips referred to 'various places' she wasn't talking about actual places, such as Birmingham, but 'various places' in the media. This seemed a stretch, especially in the context of her column, which was about the meaning of words. But even if you accept she did mean 'various places' in the media, that still isn't true. But this time Esser said:

we have no wish to fall out with the complainant and I would be sorry to see the temperature rising on this matter.

May I suggest the complainant  offers us a succinct letter setting out his view of “ Winterval” and, subject to the Editor accepting that, we will also attach it to the cuttings to warn about the future use of the term.

James said he hoped the Mail would mark the cuttings anyway, but declined to write a letter. He argued that it would carry no weight and that the Mail should admit its error in the new 'Clarifications and corrections' column. That is what it is there for, after all.

A few days later, the Mail offered to publish this:

We suggested 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 over the Christmas period in 1997 and 1998.

James argued it was a good start, but didn't go far enough. He wanted 'suggested' (the trick they always try in corrections) replaced with 'stated'. He wanted 'over the Christmas period' removed. And he wanted a clear statement from the Mail that would show they were admitting their mistake and, hopefully, ending the Winterval myth once and for all. So he asked for this to be added at the end:

We are happy to make clear that Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas.

Somewhat surprisingly, especially given their original response, the Mail agreed to this wording and so, today, the Mail's 'Clarifications and corrections' column published this:

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.

This is excellent news and long overdue. It means that any future repetition of the Winterval myth by the media can now be easily challenged. If the Mail - the Mail - admits Winterval wasn't about replacing or renaming Christmas, there's no good reason other media should claim otherwise.

Is this the beginning of the end of the Winterval myth?

(For more, see Winterval: the unpalatable making of a modern myth by Kevin Arscott)


  1. I bet this made Kevin's day.

  2. I am in constant awe of just how slippery these unelected guardians of our way of life are.

    Not a jot of proof - or, indeed, intelligence - is needed, it seems, in order to sell a newspaper.

  3. Well done! congratulations due to James

  4. YAY! At last! It only took 13 years or so. I would love to see Mel Phillips face now. Especially considering the snotty e-mail response she gave to angry mob.

  5. What a result, it seems Winterval has come early this year.

  6. When can we expect Melanie Phillips's humble apology?

  7. That is absolute class, excellent stuff. Well done that man :)

  8. I see that the correction has also been added to original September 26 article. That must be a first for the Mail

  9. Whilst it may be very gratifying to see the Mail briefly acknowledging rationality, I am afraid, with the ongoing toils of Phillips, Hitchens and Littlejohn, the Mail's reality distortion field (also known as lying) is a many headed hydra; one head chopped off leaves ever more replacing it.
    I wouldn't even be surprised to find the Winterval story appearing again in the Mail, once the dust has cleared. They just don't care.

  10. Might it be that they are trying to make the PCC look useful and effective right now? Until all the heat dies down over calls for a new regulation system?

  11. Far be it for me to defend the ghastly Mail or to be on the same side as the odious Phillips,  but this counter argument is disingenuous, as indeed is any suggestion that there hasn't been an effort by some to de-Christmas December. The winterval story was invariably used as a lazy shorthand for that. I was working in a Gov't Dept private office and our accounting officer rejected a Christmas card because it was religious. Meanwhile I note that this year the Southbank are holding a 'Winter Festival', oh you mean Christmas... We've all seen it.

  12. @Anonymous 07.15

    The Southbank Centre's Winter Festival website begins with: "Make Southbank Centre your festive treat this Christmas. Enjoy our classic Yuletide, infused with the scent of mulled wine and the sounds of carols by candlelight." Browsing through 'What's on', events include a 'Traditional Christmas market' and a 'Magical Christmas Concert', plus 'Christmas Chimes, 'Christmas comedy' and...etc etc. Not much de-Christmas-ing going on there then.

  13. So the Daily Mail has finally admitted that its columnists are lying, ultra-rightwing xenophobic bastards. That's almost self-aware!


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