Comments: New approach to Christmas advertising campaign

Christmas is indeed a major religious festival being swamped by commercial interests.
But, in the USA, people fearing a so-called "war on Christmas" seem to focus on superficialities, like merchants who dare to say anything other than "Merry Christmas". They want all merchants, period, to say "Merry Christmas" -- or else.
Dare we hope this new effort is aimed at reminding Christians of their religious heritage, strengthening their belief, and leaving people of other religious heritages alone during the month of December?
Pinning one's meaning of Christmas on whether a bored sales clerk tells you "Merry Christmas” or not is indeed very thin, very poor soil to plant one's faith.

The date of Christmas is sort of like the official day for the British monarch's birthday. There is often no relationship between the official day, and the actual birth date of the monarch. But people celebrate the monarch, and commemorate the monarchy, nevertheless
Likewise, virtually every scholar agrees that Jesus was almost certainly NOT born on December 25.
But, isn't the circumstances of the actual birth irrelevant to the overall Christian story? Of God dwelling within humanity? Of Jesus' teachings, healings, journeys, miracles, trials, suffering, death, and -- for Christians -- resurrection?

Posted by peterpi - Peter Gross at Friday, 23 August 2013 at 2:47am BST

I hope they didn't actually *pay* anyone to come up with a variation of the 30-40 year old "Put the Christ Back in Christmas."

Instead of advertising, why don't churches try actually being Christ in the World - you know, healing the sick, preaching justice, peace, mercy, standing *against* the status quo?

The churches feel irrelevant because they *are*! They don't live with the people they are supposed to serve. They are *of* the World yet not *in* it. Sound bites won't fix that.

What is wrong with these people?

Posted by MarkBrunson at Friday, 23 August 2013 at 7:32am BST


How much I agree with every word of your sentiments. The church must live the gospel, that is every baptised Christian. Not be unchristian, and waffling about nothing in particular.

God became incarnate, so must his church in all its forms.

Posted by Fr John E. Harris-White at Friday, 23 August 2013 at 8:31am BST

If the campaigners are so concerned that people don't know the Christmas story, why not put their efforts simply into telling it, rather than producing a slogan which implies that those whose Christmas celebrations don't include religion are in the wrong.
How about posters which include a simple retelling, or poems and reflections about Christmas, or the story told from the point of view of various characters.
It isn't people's fault if they don't know whose birthday it is - what you don't know, you don't know. What a wonderful opportunity it gives us though, to tell the tale afresh...

Posted by Anne at Friday, 23 August 2013 at 8:56am BST

I'm not surprised that a growing number of people are ignorant of the Christmas story.
Most people's experience of Christianity and Christians these days is some purple faced pop-eyed foaming-at-the-mouth fanatic going into spasms over abortion and homosexuality.

Posted by FD Blanchard at Friday, 23 August 2013 at 1:06pm BST

I'm an atheist. This is just a friendly heads up. Does no one else immediately spot that the "It might be hard to believe" could easily be read as applying to the actual Christmas story. ("It might be hard to believe, but knowledge of the Christmas story is fading".) That's how I read it. Maybe it's my atheism? Or is the double meaning a sort of self-deprecating joke?

Anyway, trying to get out of my own perspective, I think this ad is just terrible (from the religious perspective). It's reinforcing the fact that the country is secularizing, instead of a positive message about Christmas it's relying on the idea that some people might buck up their ideas if *warned* about the trend... "Christmas time: the season of vague cultural warnings and statistical trend analysis"?

Posted by Bob at Friday, 23 August 2013 at 1:40pm BST

Glad 'official' Christianity is at last waking up to the virtual collapse of Christian culture in the UK and western Europe generally. I expect this to concentrate minds - as the gay debate in the Lords concentrated Welby's mind - and to lead to steady, if discreet, abandonment of illiberal positions.

Posted by John at Friday, 23 August 2013 at 3:55pm BST

I'm relieved by this and encouraged that they've produced something that isn't whiny, smug, self-righteous, over-clever, morally superior or puerile, and that hasn't gone the way of controversy in order to buy a certain kind of publicity. This one probably won't make the Daily Mail but might just actually get used in parishes for the ways the campaign suggests.

And there's a huge tonal difference, Peter, between 'putting Christ back'and 'starting with Christ'; the resonances of the former are critically finger-wagging and of the latter are encouraging, tolerant and indicative. Yes, the ground is stony, but when exactly were we promised the easy stuff?

This one is eminently usable.

Posted by Jonathan Jennings at Friday, 23 August 2013 at 4:05pm BST

This 'advertising campaign' is not about incarnation at all -- on the contrary !

Surely, it is a kind of retreat into a cultic cul-de-sac where primacy, intimacy and 'ultimacy', are (be)traded-in for sectarian baubles of banality.

Spend the money on some real mission / projects in our broken country ...

Posted by Laurence at Friday, 23 August 2013 at 7:44pm BST


Posted by Craig Nelson at Friday, 23 August 2013 at 9:58pm BST

I wonder whether anyone realised that to some people the website will read: "Christmass Tarts with Christ".

Posted by Kelvin Holdsworth at Friday, 23 August 2013 at 10:21pm BST

I agree with several of the comments already - the whole `Christmas starts with Christ' thing is so old-hat and trite, it's just an offputting gripe.

It would be far better to live the message the rest of the time.

Posted by Tim at Friday, 23 August 2013 at 10:38pm BST

To me Christmas is about the LIFE of JESUS. I celebrate his birth not because of the beautiful legends, rich in meaning and in Scriptural echoes, that came to be told of it, but because of his living and loving and healing, his giving himself to the cause of the "kingdom of God" (even if we do not share whatever was his understanding of that kingdom) and his doing that even to the point of his suffering and laying down his life for others - he now "made alive in the spirit". The story of Mohammed, for instance, does not begin to compare with that of the one who I believe was the greatest of God's prophets - indeed "no story so divine". It is his life - and the endlessly wonderful and incomparable "Synoptic" Gospels that came to be told of it, especially all that is represented in the Apostles' Creed by a comma (between "Mary" and "suffered"), that needs to be known and explored by so many.

Posted by John Bunyan at Friday, 23 August 2013 at 11:41pm BST

It is typical of the evangelicals to assume that there are only two sorts of people in the country: Christians, and people who feel guilty about the fact that they aren't Christian. The same applies to vegetarians: they assume that the only reason people eat meat is that they haven't yet been told about the issues that make the veggies not eat it.

Leave aside that most of Christmas as celebrated today is a pagan winter festival (food, trees, presents), and has no need of religion to complete it. Leave aside that the claim that only 12% of adults know "the nativity story" is clearly bogus and probably means "only 12% scored 100% on an incredibly detailed quiz". Leave aside that in 2013, attempting to guilt-trip people into attending church (or whatever) is highly unlikely to work.

The simple truth is that this is an advertising campaign that can never work. It assumes that the people being preached to (and they are being preached to) share the general worldview of those doing the preaching, and just need reminding of a few details. They don't. It's like a vegetarian campaign attempting to remind people that meat comes from dead animals. That matters to the vegetarians. It doesn't matter to anyone else: they've already made that decision.

Posted by Interested Observer at Saturday, 24 August 2013 at 8:06am BST

I'd defy any of the 51% who say that Jesus has no relevance to the Christmas celebrations not to be moved by an Infant School Nativity play.

Posted by Father David at Saturday, 24 August 2013 at 9:35am BST

"Christmas starts with Christ" is true - but it is also the sort of embarrassing slogan often seen on church notice boards. It is rather like the requirement for hairdressers to have punning names like "A Cut Above.." and so forth. One near my home in Sheffield is called "British Hairways"!

It also could be perceived as a bit insulting because it implies that the person reading might not have known that CHRISTmas begins with CHRIST. At the same time it says nothing about what that means. TORCHWOOD is an anagram of DOCTOR WHO! But that, while less obvious, doesn't mean anything either! A slogan such as "Jesus came to make things better" would actually say something. (Yes, I know that's a bit long.)

Finally, the list of "some of the nations leading Christian groups" is odd. Yes, the Church of England, Baptist Union and Methodist Church are there, but not the Church of Scotland, Catholic, or United Reform Churches. Meanwhile the list includes, CPO, Jerusalem Productions, Ecclesiastical Insurance, and the Meaningful Chocolate Company. This seems to be a mixture of churches, commercial sponsors, and companies that will make money out of merchandising.

Finally, why is the Children's Society included at all? Having looked at their website, they are a Christian charity working with needy children. How does this Christmas campaign, well-intentioned though it may be, fit with their aims?

Posted by Iain Baxter at Saturday, 24 August 2013 at 9:55am BST

"especially all that is represented in the Apostles' Creed by a comma (between "Mary" and "suffered")" --John Bunyan on Friday, 23 August 2013 at 11:41pm BST

Bravo, sir! Well done.
It is precisely that person whom I admire. He who came and taught, and laughed, and healed, and scolded, and ultimately was executed because -- IMHO -- he was seen as a trouble-maker disturbing the status quo.
If that image of Jesus of Nazareth is not grand enough, not cosmic enough, for some, it's more than enough for me. I admire the man represented by a comma.

Posted by peterpi - Peter Gross at Saturday, 24 August 2013 at 3:30pm BST

The campaign is rather misplaced and somewhat of a distraction. The neo-pagans and materialists now largely own "Christmas". Let them have it.Perhaps the Christian community could concentrate on the core message of the nativity "Peace on Earth and goodwill towards all." As for nativity plays, they likely make the non-churched who show up even more skeptical about the message of the Gospel.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 24 August 2013 at 5:32pm BST

It would appear to me, then -- based on the comments to date, that the major flaw with this ad is that it is about culture, not about faith.

Those who put it together have realized that the culture in Britain has moved away from Christ. WHich is undeniably true. But they have addressed the matter in cultural terms, not religious terms, as if faith would grow if the culture changed. What I really think they need to notice is that culture has changed because faith has failed: the problem is not with the culture, it is with the faith, and if you want to address the problem you have to address issues of faith.

As someone said, they need to be telling the story -- not just the nativity but also the salvation, not reminding people of a culture they no longer know about and no longer care about.

Posted by John Holding at Saturday, 24 August 2013 at 10:43pm BST

welcome back, Father David, refreshed (I hope)for the fray.

Posted by John at Sunday, 25 August 2013 at 10:09am BST

Thank you John for your words of welcome, much appreciated. While on holiday I did catch sight of the penultimate edition of the Salisbury diocesan newspaper "The Sarum Link" which contained photographs of the 2013 ordinations in that diocese. I noticed that of the 10 deacons ordained 8 wore diagonal diaconal stoles while two (looking rather out of place) were allowed to wear black preaching scarves. If we can live together with such small differences why can't we live together with larger and more significant differences? I further note that those ordained to the priesthood (6 women and only 2 men) all 8 were attired in matching chasubles. However, whatever different views we may hold surely we must all be concerned with the 51% who say that Christ has no significance to the way in which they celebrate Christmas. Archbishop Justin had quite a lot to say in his first Presidential Address to the July General Synod in York about living together with our differences. An excellent address containing much wisdom and sound advice.

Posted by Father David at Sunday, 25 August 2013 at 12:21pm BST

The only way to convince anyone else that the Incarnate Christ is real and effective is to demonstrate His presence in our lives. Ghandi once said that is only Christians acted like Jesus there might be many more believers in the world.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Sunday, 25 August 2013 at 12:28pm BST

Father Ron (and others) -- of course "the only way to to convince anyone else that the Incarnate Christ is real and effective is to demonstrate His presence in our lives." But what does that look like on the ground, and how does it differ from the kind of life led by a virtuous Jew, a virtuous Moslem, a virtuous Hindu, or for that matter, a virtuous atheist? And, supposing we are leading that demonstrative life, how are people to know that the reason we lead it is Christ in us? Wear a sign?

It is not at all evident that seeing a person leading the kind of life you mean would lead the onlooker to conclude that Christ in that person's life is the reason for the virtue one would seek to emulate.

We are surrounded by folk of all faiths and none who live lives of exemplary virtue, so far as anyone can tell from the outside. How is the Christian life different from theirs, again to the outside observer?

Posted by John Holding at Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 2:58am BST

Interested Observer: 'Leave aside that the claim that only 12% of adults know "the nativity story" is clearly bogus and probably means "only 12% scored 100% on an incredibly detailed quiz"'

You're right. Full details at

Posted by Feria at Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 6:48pm BST

"Interested Observer: 'Leave aside that the claim that only 12% of adults know "the nativity story" is clearly bogus and probably means "only 12% scored 100% on an incredibly detailed quiz"'

You're right. Full details at"

Ah! Another manufactured crisis.

You know - if the churches actually started doing and saying relevant and life-giving things, they wouldn't need to keep churning out spurious reasons that they are so vital.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Wednesday, 28 August 2013 at 5:00am BST

What's more, one of the questions on the quiz was 'According to the story in the Christian Bible, who was Jesus' cousin?'. The answer considered correct was John the Baptist.

However, thanks to the sterling efforts of the Gideons, the Bible most people in the UK have to hand is the NIV. Strictly speaking, for them, the correct answer would be "don't know", because in Luke 1:36, where the KJV says "cousin", the NIV merely says "relative".

Posted by Feria at Thursday, 29 August 2013 at 4:37pm BST

As one of the people behind this campaign, I thought I’d offer a response to some of your comments.
Mark Brunson – no one got paid, we give our time for free. You ask: “why don't churches try actually being Christ in the World - you know, healing the sick, preaching justice, peace, mercy, standing *against* the status quo?”
It is insulting to suggest that they don’t. Some of our posters even say “Christmas doesn’t start with a fight on Eastenders, Christmas starts with our Tuesday night soup kitchen.” Our campaign is a way of telling the public that the church is actually doing a lot of good, ‘Christ-like’ work. The slogan: “Christmas starts with Christ” focuses on Christ and what it means to follow Him.
Anne, we have consistently told the Christmas story, via radio commercials and online. This one for example:
Atheist Bob – I agree the wording is terrible! We’re changing it. And the message is more a wake up call to churches rather than finger-wagging. I do wonder at atheists who stalk Christian websites, they can seem more fanatical and religion-obsessed than the people they oppose.
John and Jonathan, thank you.
Laurence, your post is too highbrow for my muddled brain on a Sunday night to unpick.
Kevin – you are potty minded but thanks for the comment.
Interested Observer – your argument might be flawed. You see only two types of people, those who have always been vegetarians and those who have always eaten meat. Might it be that some vegetarians were once meat eaters but were persuaded to make the switch? Perhaps even by an advertisement?
To Father David – I have never been to a Nativity Play but am assured there is rarely a dry eye in the house.
Iain – this campaign is all about the good that the church does in the local community. That’s why we’re working alongside other organisations that put their money where their mouth is. Hence the Children’s Society. And ‘British Hairways’? Absolute gold!
John Holding – I don’t believe faith has failed. Last week I saw 25 young Pentecostals baptized on Brighton beach. Maybe white faith has failed but Christianity is still fighting fit.
Father Ron Smith – I agree. Many other commenters have said the same. I feel sadness that you believe that churches and Christians are not doing this. I believe that if all Christians ceased their good work tomorrow, the nation would notice.
Ferla – the ‘incredibly detailed quiz’ that stumped so many had only 4 questions: – Jesus’ birthplace, who told Mary she’d give birth, where the Holy Family fled to and who Jesus cousin was.
Finally, I wholeheartedly agree that the best advertisement we can do is to help our neighbours and, as Mother Teresa apparently said, ‘the best sermon we can give is our lives’

Posted by Biblejohn at Sunday, 8 September 2013 at 10:10pm BST

I appreciate you taking the time to try to answer all our points. Mine was a suggestion that if people didn't know the story, we should tell them it, and your response was to direct me to as an example of when you had done that. Unfortunately I have to say that if this is your idea of "telling" the story it confirms my fears about your organisation's approach to campaigning. This video isn't storytelling, it is a gimmicky parody which wouldn't take anyone any deeper into the heart of the nativity story. They might be impressed by its "cleverness" but it wouldn't help them at all to be touched by its meaning. It is no better than the frankly ghastly "chocolate" version of the Christmas story (see here for an example, but please don't use it...) True storytelling takes a story seriously, however it tells it; it recognises the spiritual and emotional truth of the story and enables people to connect with that. It doesn't matter whether the story is literally true to historical facts - stories don't have to be real to be true - but good storytelling helps people to somehow find themselves in the story.
If your organisation wants to do that, can I suggest that someone does some research in storytelling, talks to storytellers, gets some training in storytelling - anything which will help it understand and respect what the simple telling of a story can do (please abandon the gimmicks - they distance people from the truth of the tale rather than drawing them into it). It would be wonderful if the reach of your advertising could enable people, when they encountered it, to hear the still small voice of God in their own lives, to recognise the Christ Child that is born in them...

Posted by Anne2 at Monday, 9 September 2013 at 8:12am BST

Hi Anne - it is pretty rough and ready - it was a nationwide competition co-ordinated with the BBC Today show. This meant we had worldwide entries. The entrants were all amateurs and the winner was announced on prime time Radio 4. You might not like the style of it but getting people talking about Jesus outside of church at Christmas is an achievement which I am personally pleased with.

Posted by Biblejohn at Monday, 9 September 2013 at 2:57pm BST
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