‘Sensible celebrating’

A UK government department says the challenge of Christmas is to 'indulge, but not excessively'. I'd rather be at work.

Munira Mirza

Topics Politics

Some people would like to impose a ban on Christmas spirit. Soon you won’t be able to make it, import it or sell it without a license. It will be like prohibition, with those in authority limiting how much Christmas spirit can be consumed (for men the limit will be in ‘moderation’, for women, slightly less).

Okay, things aren’t that bad. But if a little-publicised government document is to be believed, it won’t be long before we’re told that Christmas is bad for our health.

The Occupational Health and Safety Unit (OHSU) of the Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions (DTLR) has produced The Christmas Survival Guide for its staff – covering topics ranging from excess eating to stress counseling, and cheerily offering handy hints on enjoying the festive season ‘in moderation’. DTLR employees are reminded that ‘Christmas is not about consumption and general excess but sensible celebrating’. Yippee!

What the DTLR bosses don’t seem to realise is that the best thing about Christmas is the excess, indulgence and bingeing. For those of us who have spent the whole year saving money, eating healthily and working hard, the prospect of some time out and more than a few glasses of bubbly is hard to demonise. But The Christmas Survival Guide is a chilling indication of how the New Labour government sees the festive season as the root of all contemporary evil.

The first sin is alcohol. DTLR employees are told that ‘if you care about your health then care about how much you drink and keep within sensible limits’. And don’t forget how overdoing the booze can affect those around you: ‘One person’s heavy drinking often causes difficulties for all those people they come into contact with – their family, their friends and their colleagues.’

Of course it’s true that people indulge more at Christmas and partake in some drunken behaviour, but is this really an example of worrying antisocial behaviour? The fact that one in four men and one in eight women will drink more than the recommended limit might be seen as government departments as evidence of the extent of the problem – but it also shows that most people don’t see a bit of seasonal drunkenness as a problem at all.

Then there is binge eating. ‘What can I say?’ sighs the DTLR’s guide, ‘we all have to eat to live, but surely not all those Christmas cakes, mince pies and other indulgences?’. Now this slap on the wrist for excessive eating is just plain mean. Yes, some people eat too much and some of then regret it later when the belt buckle won’t stretch. But we don’t need Mother (or even Big Brother) to tell us this. People might feel a little guilty about excessive drinking and eating, but they do it anyway because it brings pleasure.

Pleasure? That’s the one thing that is left out of the DTLR guide. After reading it, you start to forget that Christmas is something people actually look forward to. Instead, the guide says ‘the festive season is one of the most stressful and depressing times for many’, citing a new initiative by the Superdrug chainstore, which will offer in-store stress counselling for Christmas shoppers.

According to the guide, the challenge of Christmas ‘is to indulge [but] not excessively’. But is this possible? Surely the whole point of indulging is that it is excessive, a luxury we afford ourselves despite the consequences. What next: a health warning on Christmas puddings, a warning that dancing can cause muscle strain?

The guide’s overly moral tone betrays a puritanical streak that goes against the whole point of Christmas. The spirit (or un-spirit) of its message is that too much of anything can be risky. The only thing we are allowed to indulge in is self-reflection. So on excess eating it says, ‘We all know that we have suffered and regretted it after. If we are honest then that is the case’. Confess your sins and all will be forgiven….

The most worrying thing about this guide is that it wasn’t written by a religious leader but by a government employer. But then, as human resources professionals become increasingly preoccupied with lifestyle and personal health issues, it is not surprising that the DTLR is at the forefront of using the workplace as a vehicle to teach good habits.

Under New Labour, the right to comment on individuals’ lifestyles knows no boundaries and even the precious realm of festival celebrations are under the spotlight. If this is the shape of holidays to come, I’d think I’d rather be at work.

Read on:

Have yourself a very scary Christmas, by Brendan O’Neill

Bar, car, black sheep, by Rob Lyons

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Topics Politics


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