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steve tomkins
crows nest
By Stephen Tomkins
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Church vs. chocolate
December 2000

The Church of England has emerged victorious in a campaign against a major chocolate manufacturer. Rather than tackling unethical dealings in the developing world, though, it has gone for a softer target. Multinational chocgiants Nestlé were rude about Christmas - and they didn't get away with it.

Nestlé launched a specially festive version of a their old favourite, the Aero, in white chocolate with a cranberry flavoured filling. But they made the fatal mistake of putting a shockingly Scrooge-like slogan on it: "Stuff Xmas! Treat yourself."

Church House complained about the disrespect shown to the nativity of our Lord. Nestlé said they were sorry for any offence, but hey what can you do, and extended to all at the C of E compliments of the season.

The Church was not to be fobbed off so lightly, and under pressure, Nestlé decided to underline the sincerity of its remorse by recalling every bar.

We up here are slightly confused about what Nestlé were getting at in the first place with this slogan. To launch an anti-Christmas product covered in Bleak Midwinter white chocolate and stuffed with cranberry seems to be sending out mixed messages.

And apparently they were tempting us to put aside everything Christmassy and turn instead to... some self-indulgent face-filling. Am I alone in seeing a paradox here?

The real question though is whether the Church has any business still guarding Christmas so jealously. For most people in our society it isn't a religious festival at all: it's a short holiday marked by exchanging presents, decorating the house, eating too much, drinking too much and seeing too much of the relatives.

And if the Church wants to turn back the clock to what Christmas used to be, it should be careful not to turn it too far: it was a pagan feast before we ever got our hands on it. The Romans had a knees-up on 25 December to honour the birth of the Son – sorry, the Sun. They exchanged presents and hung up decorations in honour of Saturn. Wandering players would act out "Tis a Wondrous Lyfe" and "Ye Wisard of Ozze". Possibly.

So if the pagans have taken it over again, who are we to complain? All we ever did was nick it and change the name to get Christ in there – and as Nestlé show, they're editing that out again too.

Proprietary rights over annual festivities are a tricky issue. But Crow's Nest once again has the answer. Taking a leaf out of King Solomon's book, we suggest cutting Christmas up between the two claimants.

The Christians get custody of the name, and they get all the other religious bits too: the carols, the services, the Bible stories, the nativity play.

The pagans get the decorations, the presents, the shopping, the annual spree of waste and greed, "Only Fools and Horses", and "A Spaceman Came Travelling". And the date, but they have to call it Xday.

Who gets Father Christmas is a tricky one, but I think the pagans can have him as long as they don't call him Santa Claus.

Meanwhile, if the Christians miss the gift-giving that much, we'll allow them to celebrate the birth of Jesus by giving to people who can't give anything in return – like the ones that certain chocolate makers exploit so lucratively.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to stock up on humbugs.
also see
hubris 2
Mark Howe's regular rant about Internet culture
strangely warmed
Andrew Rumsey's regular column about the religious life
loose canons
Stephen Tomkins' regular round-up of the saints of yore who were one wafer short of a full communion
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