At a meeting towards the end of the week before last – so, mind you, mid-October at best, one of my Councillors wandered in wearing a poppy. It was the first I had seen of the season – though they are already increasingly ubiquitous, particularly among those people who are politically visible and take their cue from PMQs, Question Time, and so on. I am personally of the “November 1st onward” school of poppy-wearing, but each to his own. Everything has to happen before everything else now, which is why my local Co-op has been selling “Mistletoe Kisses” for over a month, and I imagine they’ll be doing 3 for 2 on Easter eggs before we actually make it to 2010.
The Calendar presents a particular difficulty for Councils as we get towards the end of the year, caught as they are between two types of grumpy old man.
First the Scylla of, well, the likes of me, who believe that the Christmas season runs at the very most from Advent to Epiphany, and rue the appearance of Santas, nativity scenes, guiding stars and other more secular accoutrements in every shop window from the day after the Halloween decorations come down if not before.
Secondly, though, Councils face the increasingly more vocal Charybdis of the Christmas Protection League, who hold that anything done between October and March must be branded Christmas, and anything less is a personal attack on Jesus. Holding a civic event for New Year? Diwali? Hanukkah? Then your authority is in league with the forces of darkness, you might as well cancel the December meeting of Cabinet and have them dance around the pagan pine tree in reception chanting win-ter-val win-ter-val. No, wait, that’s not it.
Oxford did particularly well last year in the “Birmingham Winterval Memorial Trophy” contest last year, being roundly condemned because the Council organised “WinterLight” which didn’t feature Christmas. Except that it did feature Christmas: including carols, trees, cards, and an advent fair (and the rest of the programme wasn’t organised by the Council, but never mind). I imagine this year the Leader of the Council could dress up as the Virgin Mary and ride to Bethlehem on a municipally-branded donkey and certain newspaper outlets (the ones that don’t have three wise men to rub together) would headline that he was absent from the civic carol service.
Surely, though, the origin of the municipal-war-on-Christmas genre goes right back to the Victorian era when the organisers of the Blackpool Festival of Lights not only banned Christmas from the name, but had the affront to bring it to an end in November each year, missing the point entirely. Following this fine Lancashire precedent Rochdale are alleged to have done sterling work in getting their Christmas Lights up before the August Bank Holiday. Any advance on that?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d better get my sprouts on, I like them well done, and Christmas was two months yesterday. Jingle jingle jingle.