The Winterval Comes to Oxford!

Well, almost. They’re calling it the “Winter Light Festival“, but deep down we all know it’s the Winterval. Cue the usual. Oxford Mail readers share their opinions here, and a thread’s getting going at the Daily Mail here. I think the Winterval is great.

16 thoughts on “The Winterval Comes to Oxford!”

  1. Does that mean they’re going to ban the Sally Army brass band from the Cornmarket? Fucking good job if they did, say I. God, they used to make my Decembers in Oxford miserable.

  2. Like you, I’ve (personally) got no problem with it not being called Christmas.

    Half of me thinks it’s not a very wise move though. I don’t know how representative the religious leaders mentioned in the Oxford Mail are, but I don’t think many non-Christians in Oxford get offended by the lights being called “Christmas lights” or whatever. This sort of thing just stirs up hatred of multiculturalism and diversity for no real political gain (sure, those doing the hating tend to be nasty people, and I’m not that bothered about them being annoyed, but if their hate affects Oxford’s ethnic minorities then that’s a bad thing).

  3. I’m not sure that I follow your reasoning, Peter. Is it entirely based on the idea that vulgar Oxonians might use it as an excuse to persecute the ethnic minorities in Oxford? I wouldn’t have thought it likely that it will cause an escalation in abuse or violence towards ethnic minorities over and above what normally occurs.

    In terms of positive effects, whilst no groups may have been calling for a non-denominational winter festival (other than Chris and those Chris has inspired) perhaps it will make those from non-Christian groups happy to see that their council is willing to make such gestures, especially at the expense of winding up the local (and potentially national) gutter trash.

  4. Chris, I wish I could – at the click of a finger- simply annhilate all the Oxford Mail Readers and Daily Mail wankers who comment on the respective articles.

    This country needs a good clean-up of all the trash that has accumulated over the years – can we send them to Zimbabwe or something?

  5. I disagree. It is silly. It is Christmas. Unless the festival is about what sounds like an excellent Bergman film, then what on earth is Winter Light Festival? It reminds me of RE in school when they tried to convince us that Easter was the Christian festival of light, and they found it very hard to accept from me and other Christians that no it darn well wasn’t. Can’t we have Eid lights, Divali lights, and Christmas lights, instead of trying to make everything the same?

  6. Chris — the Winter Light Festival and the Oxford Christmas Lights are two different things, although things are slightly confused by the fact that the OCL will be switched on for the first time on the night of what they’re calling the WinterLight event, which is an evening of late gallery and museum openings and special events and things like that. Both are on 28 November.

    The WLF, like the Winterval itself once upon a time, is the catch-all name for a whole series of events that will go on in Oxford over the last few weeks of the year, from late November to early January, some of which, but not all of which, are explictly Christmas-themed, but many of which are secular, cultural things of one kind or another. And – as you’ve probably guessed – one of the reasons I like the Winterval is that it is pleasingly silly.

  7. Are these series of events about celebrating some concept called Winter Light? If they are, and what they really mean is something to do with this, then it might be a good name. It seems to me though, that a festival of events, many of which are Christmas-themed, is likely to be a Christmas festival.

    It might make sense if they called it the “Winter Programme”, within which were Christmas events and non-Christmas events, likewise having their programmes at other times of the year. However, I’m suspicious that this set of events are largely being held because it’s Christmas, that they’re being rolled together into a festival because it’s Christmas, and that it will be Christmas.

    I think also that apart from ironists, most people would understand and be well-disposed towards the thing if it were described as Christmas, our most nationally-beloved festival (at least whilst we pine for BVD). Up in Sheffield they have Eid lights, Diwali lights, and Christmas lights, and all of them make sense. In London we had a huge setup for Chinese New Year, and that was appreciated too.

    Of course, Winterval, though I suspect it appeared in the US first, can be an expression of a British attempt not to offend, expressed ineptly and with little regard to the actual feelings of those one is trying to protect. It’s a bit of Basil Fawlty, “Don’t mention the religion.”, but can we not try to move on from ineptness to being happy that so many people of different faiths enjoy Christmas?

    For Christianity this isn’t the most important festival, and the very fact that Christmas is so much the bigger event than Easter reflects that the celebration of Christmas is very much part of our national culture, and that only part of that comes from the national religion. Christians have to know that “the true meaning of Christmas” is not the only meaning of Christmas, and to be happy for everyone having their fun, just like at Easter, whilst celebrating and sharing its religious meaning.

    The mainstream can enjoy Christmas as a festival of everyone doing fun things, shopping, giving presents, getting together with families and friends; and some people celebrating the birth of the founder of their religion.

  8. Oh, Winterval’s 100% Birmingham, from c.1997-8 or thereabouts. Like Baltis, really. It’s homegrown. In the US the language of “happy holidays” is everywhere, with Christmas and Hannakuh and, often enough, Kwanzaa being mentioned together. But they’ve never, to my knowledge, embraced the Winterval. A couple of years ago I was in California over the break, and when people said “happy holidays” to me I trained myself to reply, “Enjoy the Winterval”. But all I got were funny looks.

  9. More to the point (or not), I have my doubts as to whether Bonn Square is going to be ready in time. It’s been looking very unfinished for quite some time now…

    (Waves to Chris and apologises for not having seen him this term)

  10. hi there thought you may be interested in the following which I wrote re Winterval.
    ps I was the person in Birmingham that first coined the phrase
    Birmingham should celebrate “Winterval”
    By Michael Chubb

    Google Winterval and you get nearly 18,000 results. Investigate further and you have an amazing array of personal comments from pukka boardsheets to off the wall blog sites to Birmingham’s own Mail, “Christmas has been rebranded Winterval”.

    Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian at the time, (headline, “The Phony War on Christmas” ) undertook extensive reportage and found that “There’s only one problem with the PC campaign against Christmas- it’s pure nonesense”.
    He goes on;
    “Perhaps the most notorious of the anti-Christmas rebrandings is Winterval, in Birmingham, According to an official statement from the Council, Winterval – which ran in 1997 and 1998, and never since – was a promotional campaign to drive business into Birmingham’s newly regenerated town centre. It began in early November and finished in January. During the part of that period traditionally celebrated as Christmas, “there was a banner saying Merry Christmas across the front of the council house, Christmas lights, Christmas trees in the main civil squares, regular carol-singing sessions by school choirs, and the Lord Mayor sent a Christmas card with a traditional Christmas scene wishing everyone a Merry Christmas”.
    None of that, though, was enough to prevent a protest movement at the time, whose members included the then Bishop of Birmingham, Mark Santer, as well as two members of UB40”.
    Burkeman speaking to Julian Bond of the Christian Muslim Forum when asked about the de-Christianisation of Christmas, Bond admitted that evidence was hard to come by and further he said “You know, we were in Birmingham for a meeting the other day, and there’s a big Merry Christmas banner in the middle of New Street.” So is anybody at all trying to abolish Christmas this year? “I haven’t come across any examples of anyone doing it this year,” he replies. “No”.
    I think it is now time to put my head above the parapet and declare why I have been asked to write this article . Pretty simple really, I was the one that coined the term “Winterval”
    I was head of events for Birmingham, responsible for over 400 events a year from St. Georges Day to Fireworks Fantasia, international Street festivals to… yes Christmas.
    As an events division (the largest in the UK at that time) we were always seeking to improve the service to the Birmingham community and whilst we aided specific communities to develop their own festivals, Diwali, Chinese New Year, St. Patricks Day to Gay Pride (mainly because we had the professional expertise to help those communities realise their ambitions) our remit extended to all festivals and events. All were to be totally inclusive and the majority free or at an affordable price.
    In my first Christmas, Birmingham received national coverage, Blue Peter launched the Christmas Lights Switch on and Eamonn Holmes “How do they do that” show closed their Christmas edition with a burst of flame projectors on the town Hall.. “and a happy Christmas from Birmingham!”.
    As Head of Events with such a professional team behind me, it was always important to deliver bigger and better events more often than not though with reduced funding.
    The imperative for delivering these events was to maximize the quality of the experience, increase our audiences and deliver Birmingham as a forward thinking energetic city. Promoting the events to a local, national and international audience and thereby gaining recognition was vital to the Councils overall aims and objectives. Recognition of a city’s innovative approach reflects on all. To businesses considering relocating, to increasing bed nights to the hotel sector, to marketing the city’s retail offer all these are factored in.
    So to Winterval. The events division were charged with putting on 41 days and nights of activity that ranged from BBC Children in Need, to the Christmas Lights Switch On, to a Frankfurt Christmas Market, outdoor ice rink, Aston Hall by Candlelight, Diwali (Festival of lights) shopping at Christmas, World class theatre and arts and of course New Years Eve with its massive 100,000 audience. With funding from sponsors and with very many more events to market, the decision was to bring all the events together under a generic banner under which they could all sit. Whilst marketed as Winterval, each event had its own marketing plan but clearly it was Winterval that drove the initiative.
    Leaving Birmingham (to another job!)I started to notice the ridiculous banshee that pervaded Winterval. Through Wickapedia I contacted Polly Toynbee of the Guardian re the (now) long running Winterval saga..she suggested that as the originator of Winterval I should stand up and put my name to it.
    So as originator, what are my thoughts?.
    Rather like Oliver Burkeman of the Guardian..its nonsense and I feel like many stories around the festive season when news is fairly thin on the ground the media seek out what they term “Silly season stories”.
    Political correctness was never the reasoning behind Winterval, but yes it was intended to be inclusive (which is no bad thing to my mind) and a brand to which other initiatives could be developed as part of The Winterval offer in order to sell the City at a time when all cities are competing against each other for the seasonal trade.
    Each part of Winterval had its own marketing plan..the same as ,for instance, the marketing of a brand whose sub brands (ie chocolate)have their own niche marketing.
    I do believe that those who took umbrage did it for their own reasons, to peddle their own message and of course, everybody got on to their own hobby horses in the process.
    I am amazed that no-one could see the simplicity of The Winterval brand, but read into it what they wanted; to further and give voice to their own aspirations/prejudices.

    It is time for Birmingham to be proud of Winterval and stand up for an innovative initiative that befits an outward looking city.

    Maybe, perhaps , the opportunists will now put away their righteous indignation and reflect on what the city has lost..a unique festival that celebrates what Birmingham is world famous for..a city that shares and celebrates with a sense of style and adventure.

  11. Funny most of the Muslim shops in my Town have the biggest and the best Christmas light and tree’s , two shops and the staff who are all Asian and Muslim had a singing parade in the main shopping area, yet the three largest shops which are non Muslim did sod all this year and people were saying it is sad they could not be bothered, OK it’s miserable with people being unemployed or not feeling happy, but for god sake it’s Christmas and if the Germans the French and the British can celebrate it in the middle of a bloody war so can we.

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