How EU officials simply forgot about Christmas

The European oligarchy’s failure to include Christmas in a diary for schoolkids sums up their separation from the demos.

Frank Furedi

Frank Furedi

Topics World

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The political bosses of the European Union and their army of technocrats could do worse than listen to the lyrics of the Band Aid tune ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ Because apparently they don’t know that 25 December still has significance for the vast majority of the EU’s 502million inhabitants.

A year ago the European Commission (EC) printed more than three million school diaries for distribution to students. They are lovely diaries which, true to the EU’s multicultural ethos, helpfully note all the Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Chinese festivals. The diary also highlights Europe Day, which falls on 9 May. But the diary is not without some very big gaps. For example, it makes no reference to Christmas – or Easter or indeed to any Christian holidays.

However, the importance of 25 December is not entirely ignored. At the bottom of the page for that day, schoolchildren are enlightened with the platitude: ‘A true friend is someone who shares your concern and doubles your joy.’

Not surprisingly, many Europeans are not exactly delighted by the conspicuous absence of Christian festivals from a diary produced for children. In January, an Irish priest complained to the ombudsman of the EC and demanded an apology for the omission of Christian holidays and the recall of the diaries. A month later, the commission apologised for its ‘regrettable’ blunder. However, the ombudsman dismissed the demand to recall the diaries, arguing that a one-page correction sent to schools had rectified the error.

A storm in a teacup? Or a symptom of the European oligarchy’s indifference to the cultural legacy of Europe? The German Conservative MEP Martin Kastler linked the diary ‘error’ to ‘aggressive atheism in the apparatus of the European [institutions]’. However, it is unlikely that this episode is the result of a militant atheist agenda and that the references to Christian festivals were deliberately omitted. Rather, what this oversight demonstrates is a political outlook that is increasingly estranged from Europe’s historical and cultural traditions.

This is an outlook which is characteristically casual about taking such traditions seriously. The authors of the diary were probably so obsessed with the EU’s administratively constructed values of diversity and inclusion that they never once stopped to think what kind of experiences really mattered to the people of Europe. From this perspective, getting the dates of various non-European cultural events correct mattered far more than remembering Christmas.

It is clear that what was driving the authors of this diary was not the concern of hundreds of millions of people for whom Christmas and Easter constitute important events, but rather the latest administrative diktat of the EC.

Unfortunately, with the passing of time, Brussels officialdom has become less and less sure about what it means to be a European. It spends millions of euros on promoting the EU brand through distributing pamphlets, comic books and textbooks, but its attempts to cobble together a European identity rarely succeed in injecting meaning into public life.

One reason for its failure to uphold any meaningful identity is because it continually strives to distance the EU from Europe’s cultural heritage and traditions. It appears as if, ashamed by its past, the EC wishes to invent a European identity that is freed of the continent’s cultural and historical legacy.

For the EU political elite, the history of the continent before 1945 is alien if not hostile territory. European history contains its share of depressing and horrific episodes, of course. And it is entirely understandable that many enlightened Europeans wish to do everything they can to eliminate the regressive influences of aggressive nationalism and xenophobia. But like it or not, Europe is stuck with its past and it cannot go forward unless it consciously assimilates its experiences.

Nor is Europe’s history something to be ashamed of. Ancient Greece was responsible for acquainting humanity with the spirit of philosophy and opening us to the promise of science. From Judaism and Christianity, Europe gained a series of moral principles that are upheld as ideals to this day. From the Romans we inherited an appreciation of the law and a legal system that provides security and order.

Europe’s history has provided an important intellectual resource for revitalising the thinking of humanity. The Renaissance and the Enlightenment were genuinely history-making European events: they drew on the experiences of ancients to call into question prevailing assumptions and prejudices. It is no less likely that Europeans today will need to draw on their past to revitalise their society and develop the intellectual resources necessary to face the future.

Recently it was reported that the cost of the EU’s proposed House of European History has doubled from its original estimate to £137million. One could live with these rocketing costs if the project remained true to its objective of promoting an awareness of European history. But instead of serving the cause of making Europeans conscious of their historical memory, the museum is likely to institutionalise historical amnesia. Why? Because EU politicians regard the past as a source of tension and conflict and believe Europe’s disunited history is an embarrassment rather than an inspiration.

Consequently, the designers of this project have decided that 1946 will serve as the point of departure for the EU’s history. By settling on 1946 as Europe’s year zero, the EU political elite can free itself of a tradition that it neither appreciates nor understands. A political culture that can be so cavalier with its past is readily disposed to regard the calendar as merely a set of dates to be fiddled with. Disdain for history is the flipside of indifference to a traditional calendar.

Yet the past matters. What Europe needs is not commission-sponsored mission statements about artificially constructed values, but an appreciation of its historical legacy. Paradoxically, the best antidote to petty national rivalries is a dose of historical memory. History provides Europe with experiences that transcend national boundaries but which also constitute a genuine transnational sensibility.

Frank Furedi’s On Tolerance: A Defence of Moral Independence is published by Continuum in August 2011. (Pre-order this book from Amazon(UK).) Visit his personal website here. A version of this article was originally published in the Australian on 7 May.

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Topics World


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