In Depth

Myth of Winterval shattered as Daily Mail admits error

Paper finally accepts that Birmingham did not rename Christmas in the 1990s

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ONE of the media's most enduring urban myths, that of Winterval, may finally have been laid to rest after the Daily Mail admitted that there never was an attempt to rebrand Christmas with the politically correct term. The tale has been doing the rounds since the late 1990s when Birmingham City Council's marketing department came up with the idea of 'Winterval' to describe festivities in the city between the late autumn Hindu festival of Diwali and New Year's Eve. Mistakenly, it was seen in some quarters as an attempt to sideline the tradition of Christmas. Since then the term has become a stick with which to beat the politically correct. Guardian blogger Kevin Arscott claims that the Mail has trotted out the story 44 times, while The Times and The Sunday Times have mentioned it 40 times since 1998. Mail columnist Melanie Phillips was the last to invoke the story, back in September.

Now the Mail has admitted in its newly introduced 'clarifications and corrections' column: "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." News of the Mail’s climbdown has been greeted with widespread jubilation in some quarters. Steven Baxter, blogging on the New Statesman said: "All my Christmases have come at once." Meanwhile, a Birmingham journalist, Bob Haywood, has explained how the Winterval myth was born. It began with a story he wrote for The Sunday Mercury in 1998 based on comments made by the Bishop of Birmingham, Rt Rev Mark Santer. Referring to the city council’s marketing campaign, the bishop had said: "It seems, the secular world... is actually embarrassed by faith. Or perhaps it is Christianity which is censored."

In short, Santer misunderstood the point of Winterval. Far from being politically correct, it was a handy slogan used by a busy town hall department. The rest is history.

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