Christmas was not 'banned' after all
Newspapers, local councillors and church leaders were left looking red-faced today, after their suggestions that a London council was banning Christmas were shown to be false.
The Daily Express ran a front page story on Wednesday with the headline; "Christmas is banned: It offends Muslims."
It related to publicity produced by Lambeth council surrounding their Christmas lights displays. In three of Lambeth's town centres, the lights were referred to as "Winter Lights", while in a fourth - Waterloo - they were called "Celebrity Lights". The details of the town centre events were published in the council's newspaper, Lambeth Life.
But hysterical headlines in the local and national press suggested that the council was trying to ban Christmas, and Bernard Gentry, a Conservative councillor told the BBC that officers were trying "to airbrush out one of the main festivals of what is still the biggest religion in Lambeth."
"Christmas appears to have been cancelled in our borough".
Reverend Roger Stedman, pastor of Clapham Christian Fellowship, backed the councillor's call.
He said: "The lights are there to mark Christmas and as such should be called Christmas lights.
"We should respect Christmas in the same way we respect the festivals and events of other religions."
But it turns out that the move was not a conspiracy to ban Christmas after all, but a simple administrative error.
The council said one of its town centre managers had "erred on the side of caution" and replaced the term "Christmas lights" with "winter lights".
The council spokeswoman said an official was concerned about people from other religions.
She said: "It was a junior-level decision and it happened to go into print which was an error basically.
"I think it was certainly not a council policy that we should call the lights winter lights."
"The suggestion Christmas has been banned is absolutely ridiculous," the spokesman added. "The usual Christmas tree will be up in the Town Hall, the usual Christmas carols will be sung and we're looking forward to the Christmas lights being switched on."