Letters: Christmas and religion

Even Britain has now taken Christ out of Christmas
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The Independent Online

I was interested in the article about how Jesus Christ was displaced in the Nazi Christmas and replaced with Nazi symbols because Jesus Christ was a Jew (report, 21 December).

As I read, fascinated at the horrible process, the question arose in my mind, how has Christ become displaced in the UK? I went into my local shops in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, and asked in three successive shops for nativity scene Christmas cards, and although all three shops had hundreds of different scenes, not one had a nativity scene.

If Britain is a Christian country, why is Jesus Christ's presence not experienced in the nation? Why is Jesus Christ missing from Christmas cards? Why is there prejudice against the symbol of Christianity, the cross? What value do we place on Christ at Christmas?

Margaret Knight


How bizarre that Garrison Keillor complains of Unitarians ruining Christmas by not reciting a creed (Opinion, Dominic Lawson, 22 December). The point about creeds is that, when religion is truly and deeply believed, they are apt to lead to burning at the stake or beheading (Servetus in 1553, Gentile in 1566).

These are not procedures most people associate with Christmas. Unitarians place toleration above belief, since anyone can be sure of behaving in the gospel spirit, but no one can be sure of holding the true faith. Moreover, the early Church tolerated a wide divergence of belief.

The Emperor Theodosius may have found that the imposition of one faith in 381 improved the governability of the Roman Empire, but his action destroyed the essential nature of faith, that it is something intimately and personally believed and accepted. In the words of a great Englishman, William Chillingworth, writing in 1636, "Nothing is more against religion than to force religion".

Christopher Walker

London W14

Children locked up by UK authorities

I agree with Mary Dejevsky ("The plight of innocent children", 15 December) that immigration policy impacts on adults as well as children.

The report of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture of the Council of Europe on its November 2008 visit to Harmondsworth immigration removal centre (IRC) concluded: "The CPT is concerned by the rise in the number of persons being detained for lengthy periods in IRCs; in certain cases, it would appear that there was little prospect of the persons concerned being sent back to their countries of origin.

"Continuing to hold a person in immigration detention in such circumstances would appear to be a disproportionate measure, and the indefinite nature of detention could lead to a deterioration in mental health. The CPT would appreciate the comments of the United Kingdom authorities on this matter."

But Ms Dejevsky is wide of the mark when she states that that a system without detention would be "essentially an open-borders policy". Restrictions on visas and the exporting of border controls by the UK and EU (Frontex) ensure it is impossible for many would-be asylum seekers and economic migrants to get into the UK, legally or illegally.

We need regularisation programmes to accept the undocumented migrants who have a life here already and cannot or will not be deported. Let us not pay companies to make private profit out of personal misery in executing a policy that is inhumane and does not work.

Bill MacKeith


The detention of children in the UK's "immigration removal centres" is having a devastating impact upon their mental and physical wellbeing.

Children become frightened and confused; many regress developmentally; studies suggest that all develop worryingly high levels of the symptoms of major depression and anxiety and develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Not only have the centres neglected to ensure many of the children are given their age-appropriate immunisations, but most of the children have reported new health problems or have suffered the exacerbation of existing ones.

All parents surveyed by Bail for Immigration Detainees note the traumatic effects continue long after the children are released. One young former detainee of Yarl's Wood, for instance, is having psychological care to counter the trauma he experienced; another young boy formerly detained suffers nightmares and is too scared to leave his mother's side for fear he will be returned to detention. These are vulnerable children, not criminals. How can any civilised society justify such cruel mistreatment?

Sarah Barnes,

Project Co-ordinator, Faith Matters

London, WC1

John Rebecchi (letters, 18 December) states that "the parents of these children have probably put them through quite frightening ordeals just in getting them to the UK". If this was the case, then surely incarceration would present only further risk to their physical and mental health?

Many of the children detained in "prison-like" surroundings were born in the UK to a parent or parents who fled persecution in their home country. If they applied for asylum on entering the UK, it may take up to 10 years or more before their cases are heard. While waiting, they got on with their lives, became part of a community, and produced children.

Years later, the agents of the Home Office descend upon the family in a dawn raid, transport them in closed vans, and incarcerate them in a removal centre. Many of these children have known no other life than that in which they were brought up in the UK.

The incarceration of these innocents is no less reprehensible than the imprisonment of the children of native-born UK citizens would be. To suggest otherwise is to imply they are in some way less deserving of our concern and compassion.

David Butler


We are greatly encouraged by your leading article in support of the recent high-profile calls to end child detention for immigration purposes (14 December), and are urging the Government to reconsider this policy without delay.

Further to the mounting and irrefutable evidence that detention seriously damages children's mental and physical wellbeing, we were appalled that the children at Yarl's Wood detention centre were also denied the small joy of receiving Christmas gifts this month. This is no way to treat children who have committed no crime, and many of whom have come to our country in need of protection from human rights abuses. It is to the shame of all of us that our government continues to lock up children.

Donna Covey

Chief Executive, Refugee Council

London SW9

No Eurostars in our eyes

Both Eurostar (which operates the trains) and Eurotunnel (which operates the tunnel) were ill-prepared to handle last weekend's emergency. But their fire-safety strategy is in question too. After the last major fire in 2008, Eurotunnel is developing a new fire-safety strategy based on moving freight train carriages to an "extinguishing area" for sprinklers to douse the fire.

If the trains can't move (for up to 16 hours), this strategy is a nonsense. Fires can start and spread rapidly, even in sub-zero temperatures.

David P Sugden

Chairman, Passive Fire Protection Federation,

Bordon, Hampshire

I have just heard a manager from Eurostar thank inconvenienced travellers for their patience while stranded in queues or worse. What else could they do? Doesn't he know that taking a photograph or making an impatient complaint about atrocious service at an airport or station is the easiest way to get arrested under spurious anti-terrorism and anti-social behaviour laws?

Andrew Calvert

Ruislip, Middlesex

Your alarmist leading article (21 December) began with the headline, "Eurostar: not just a mechanical breakdown". Indeed not; that's because it was a purely electrical breakdown.

Mike Bellion

Sedbergh, Cumbria

Brooding on the back-burner of life

Your correspondents bemoaning their luck at having birthdays on Christmas Day and New Year's Day know nothing of the utter devastation that having your birthday on Christmas Eve can bring. We are the truly overlooked, bypassed and ignored.

As a group, we have to endure watching our families spending our Christmas Eve birthdays preparing for the "big day" and sending one card and one present to cover both days because money is tight during the festive period. Having your present wrapped in Christmas paper and knowing your uninspiring card was purchased from a tiny selection because the main display was celebrating someone else's birthday can be hard to take.

It is amazing that we have not become embittered by this cruel twist of fate and consumed by the knowledge that, after this horrendous slight, we now have 12 months to wait before we are, again, thoughtlessly placed on life's "back-burner" as the rest of you prepare for Christmas Day.

This festive season, as you sit down to your turkey dinner, spare a thought for those whose birthday was the day before, and nobody noticed.

Steve Mackinder

Denver, Norfolk

Postal-vote system wide open to fraud

Four years ago, a judge in a vote-rigging trial said the postal-voting system is "wide open to fraud".

A communication I have just received from a parliamentary candidate telling me, "It is easier than ever to apply for a postal vote" shows how true this remains. Enclosed was an easy-to-complete application form, on the back of which it says that when the Electoral Services office receives the application they "check you are on the voters list and that your form is filled in correctly", in which case "your name is added to the postal voters list".

The potential for fraud with the present system is manifest and, in the case of communities where the male head of the household is regarded as the authority, the opportunity for direct or indirect coercion should not need spelling out. In the privacy of a polling booth, a person can cast a vote without relatives knowing how he or she voted, which obviously is unlikely to be the case when voting at home.

In short, the forthcoming general election is wide open to fraud or other more subtle transgressions, most of which will be virtually undetectable.

Allen Esterson

London W6

More hot air

Brian Lile's letter (22 December) reminded me of a weather forecaster's comment on breakfast TV this year: "It will be blustery in terms of the wind."

Doug Meredith


Tory lynch law

If the Conservative Party is to form the next government, we have to hope that Chris Grayling's rabble-rousing in the wake of the Munir Hussain case (report, 23 December) is no more than pre-electoral posturing. If he does enact measures that legitimise the running down and beating nearly to death of intruders who have left the premises and no longer pose a threat he will simply be giving a licence to vigilantism and lynch-mob rule. The action of the party of law and order?

Jonathan Wallace

Newcastle upon Tyne

One church, one view

Dr Andrew Smith (letters, 23 December) assumes that religious paintings were painted by religious artists, and that they spoke to people's deepest feelings. Yet how can we ignore the role played by the church in enforcing religious orthodoxy and commissioning works of art? Whoever pays the piper can name their tune. In the case of the endless morbid Pietas and crucifixions, that tune was the only one which an immensely powerful church wanted anyone to hear.

Peter McKenna


On thin ice

I enjoy the Alex James column and wholeheartedly share in his delight at the beauty of the countryside in winter, but I was shocked that he encouraged his dog to venture on to a frozen lake, because it "looked sufficiently solid to walk on" (Rural Notebook, 23 December). Last winter, several dogs in this area suffered horrific deaths when they fell into icy ponds while their traumatised owners looked on helplessly. If you would not send your child on to the ice, do not send your dog.

Isla Donald

Farnham, Surrey

Scott's real goals

Jonathan Brown's report (18 December) claims Captain Scott's goal in reaching the South Pole was "to beat his rival Roald Amundsen". The real goals of his expedition were exploration and science. Amundsen turned south to race Scott to the South Pole only after finding he had been beaten to the North Pole. This sudden challenge may have "disconcerted" Scott's expedition, but was certainly not its original motivating force.

Zoe Young

London W2