Today my son called me with a complaint. When I had driven in to work today, I had taken with me all the Christmas goodies, from half the leftover turkey, through a large portion of trifle, very carefully carried, to the rest of the mince pies. His complaint was simple…there was no Christmas cake.
“I didn’t make one. Haven’t for the last few years. It seems a bit pointless just for me.”
“I have to experience that at least once more in my life!” This was dangerously close to a compliment, but I forbore to mention it.
“Okay, I’ll make one next year.”
“You might be dead by then!” That was more like the usual tone… “Or they might have banned Christmas cake. We might have to have Holiday cake instead… it wouldn’t be the same.”
The conversation echoed one I’d had the day before.
“Baa, baa, what sheep?”
“You’ve got to be joking. It doesn’t even scan…” But the pre-school had changed the rhyme anyway in the name of political correctness, just in case the word ‘black’ might be seen as a racial slur. In this particular case, the wool of a black sheep would have been of more value than that of a white sheep as it would have not needed to be dyed before use. Therefore, if there were any racial connotations, they would not be derogatory.
I understand that there may well be some question about the real origin and meaning of the nursery rhyme, with some asserting that it refers to a protest on taxation and others suggesting it may have something to do with the slave trade, although there seems to be no concrete evidence to support either contention. Even so, no three-year old would know about either of those historical issues, nor would they ever think about such things without parents raising the issue.
I had also just been informed of the call to rename Father Christmas as ‘Person Christmas’, to be more inclusive of non-binary gender fluidity. Although this proved to have been a light-hearted suggestion, the fact it had spurred public reaction tells its own story. Then I was told of the demise of traditional nativity plays in schools. They are being replaced with non-religious
Christmas seasonal plays in a bid to include those of other religions. The debates have been going on for some time, but hearing about them in the presence of my little granddaughters really threw the situation into relief. Except, as even the terms ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ are now frowned upon as being overly exclusive and un-PC, I probably have to refer to them as the progeny of my equal-partner-in-parenting descendant or some such nonsense, not granddaughters.
Add to this the fact that I have spent the week quietly fuming at hypocrisy, for while the supermarkets are busily capitalising on the commercial phenomenon of Christmas, raking in every penny we can be persuaded to spend, they will only play seasonal muzak, not Christmas carols, in case they offend…
I thought about it a lot more over Christmas dinner, listening to the well-loved carols. Both my son and I remembered learning the words to our first carol as
small vertically challenged children miniature adults, ‘Away in a Manger’, and we remember them still. I wondered if my granddaughters and children of their generation would ever learn these simple, beautiful songs or the story that they tell, because in our multicultural society, they are deemed to be capable of offending.
The Christmas story need not be exclusive and it should be one of hope. The birth of a child happens in every family… and many of those families struggle with poverty, difficulty and prejudice. Some of those children will grow into adults who will write their own names upon the pages of history, adding their gift to the human story.
I cannot help wondering whether, in the name of so-called political correctness, we are throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water.
Even though my own views of Christianity are rather unorthodox, I still honour the Christmas season as a time of light. I love the old traditions and see in them the progression of belief evolving naturally over the centuries. Many of them have their roots in a time when Christianity was still unheard of from cultures where the Christian faith was not the only choice. The traditions are multi-cultural by nature, encompassing the folklore, myth, and faith from many lands and eras. This enriches them in my eyes as it makes them part of the continuing human story.
I grew up in an era when many good people, with no thought of harm, routinely used terms that would be utterly unacceptable today. Every minority group, both racial and social, had a series of epithets attached to them which undoubtedly caused distress and ultimately engendered both hatred and resentment. Fifty years ago, such terms were common and used without thought. They have, quite rightly, been expunged from the vocabulary of decent people and are now only used by those who do have a bias of prejudice. That expurgation, to me, is ‘political correctness’ working hand in hand with common sense, decency and respect.
Perhaps, instead of tying ourselves in knots to avoid any word, idea or deed that might possibly give offence to anyone, we might try, instead, to foster understanding, by teaching our children to respect and care for each other, celebrating the rich diversity of human experience, belief, culture and origin as expressions of a shared life.
By nit-picking every conceivable connotation, all we are doing is highlighting the differences, according them, instead our human kinship, the highest importance. We create fear of each other and of those areas where we differ… even if it is only the fear of giving offence. Such fear is always going to be divisive, fracturing communities instead of bringing us together.
We have a very long way to go before we become a globally inclusive and equal society, but even in my own lifetime we have made huge strides in the right direction. I would like to see that continue, not slide backwards as political correctness demonises half the dictionary and many traditions. True equality will not be born by querulously sifting through our days, searching out the least sign of possible provocation. It will grow from that golden rule that is common to so many cultures and beliefs… that we treat others in the way we would wish to be treated, without thought of return, but simply because it is the right thing to do. It will grow when we look into the eyes of a fellow human being… and recognise ourselves.