Nearly every year at about this time, a newspaper brings up the hoary old myth of Christmas being banned by some council or other to prevent offence to (take your pick) atheists, muslims, hindus, sikhs, buddhists or jedis. It forms part of a wider view that the traditions so long associated with this supposedly Christian country (of which a paltry 10% of the population actually go to church) are under threat from alien forces. Sometimes it's the forces of darkness (darker-skinned people with their strange religions), sometimes it's the reds (crazy communists trying to make us all equal), but often it's Brussels bureaucrats or local councils who are blamed.
The one prevalent myth is that of Winterval: a name so inoffensive to any minority group it must have been dreamt up by a committee of the most demented of liberals, and a name designed to replace the word Christmas which was felt to be too ...err.. Christian. But as both Kevin Arscott in today's Guardian and Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian in 2006 make perfectly clear, Winterval never happened, at least never in the way that the mainstream press reported it.
When the Birmingham Winterval story resurfaced in 2009, local Lib Dem activist, Mark Pack explained the distortions being peddled as truth on his political blog, laying into what he saw as a deliberate attempt to spread disinformation and a huge reluctance - particularly on the part of Christian news websites - to provide evidence and sources for their claims.
Of course, these stories - Winterval, Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep - don't exist in a vacuum; they need a context to give them at least a fighting chance of survival. And that context is often a wider political discourse about social breakdown, immigration and crime - what might be called a declinist agenda, one that suggests everything is going down the drain and that society is doomed - peddled in the popular press and by populist politicians. So, having created fear and worry about the parlous state of traditional British values, created an enemy (East Europeans massing on our borders, just waiting for the EU to let them in and claim our benefits) and stoked paranoia about the (usually burkha-clad, or heavily-bearded) enemy within, it doesn't really take a lot to stir things up further with a few stories about Christmas being cancelled.
It's easy to laugh it off and say it doesn't matter, but it doesn't take much to translate the politics of fear into the politics of hate. First Winterval, then Kristallnacht? Hopefully not, but it's the kind of fear that poisons the debate and makes racism and prejudice more acceptable.
And while the clip below is clearly a bit of a cheap shot at a very inarticulate EDL supporter (his fear of "Iraqi law" and "Muslamic ray-guns" being a particular highlight), a quick glance around Facebook and Twitter reveals that there are many people all too willing to lap up such scare stories and use them to reinforce their prejudices.