Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas losing its traditional gleam

Political correctness and new legislation is making this year’s Christmas celebrations somewhat different from how they were once enjoyed. Many are unaware that the scarcity of unshelled Brazil nuts is not due to deforestation or bad harvests, but instead EU regulations. The nuts are not banned per se, but due to fears of aflatoxins contaminating unshelled Brazil nuts, the EU imposed special conditions on these imports to ensure they do not exceed the regulatory limits [UK govt publication]. The regulations require each batch of unshelled Brazil nut shells to be tested for aflatoxins (a carcinogenic agent). As such importers are unwilling to incur costs arising from these tests and any subsequent destruction of affected nuts, so no longer import the nuts in shells. The restrictions began in late 2004 [BBC] but the European Commission has expanded and reinforced the border-control measures it has taken to protect consumers from aflatoxin contaminated products. Aflatoxins are formed by certain moulds on foodstuffs, particularly peanuts and edible nuts and products made from them. The moulds need warm, humid conditions to grow and are therefore mainly found in imports from hot countries. Peanuts and peanut products from China and Egypt, pistachios and pistachio products from Iran, dried figs, hazelnuts, pistachios and their products from Turkey and unshelled Brazil nuts from Brazil are now all covered by the regulations [foodstandards.gov / businesslink.gov].

As has been much discussed, the smoking ban in enclosed spaces has affected trade, especially for the local pub. Some have reported a 25% drop in trade since the ban which was imposed in June [BBC]. So a traditional cigar with a brandy, or nip of Drambuie, is of course off the menu.

Other Christmas traditions are also on the wane, even if not banned or impeded by government interference. The Daily Telegraph reported earlier this month that many festive traditions were disappearing. Few people place a traditional silver coin in their Christmas pudding, which itself is being displaced by other desserts. Nativity plays, once performed at schools across Britain is also in decline. In today’s multi-cultural Britain many are fearful of upsetting other religious faiths and less than 36% of schools are performing the story surround the birth of Jesus.

Even shops rarely show the nativity scene in shops, perhaps also driven by the same political correctness and not wishing to insult Islam. But few Muslims are offended by any of the Christmas traditions. In fact Lord Ahmed, himself a Muslim, describes such over sensitivity as “completely mad”.

Health & Safety is affecting how Christmassy towns look as councils become ever more fearful of being sued if anything goes wrong with displays. Christmas lights can cost up to £25,000 just to insure. Health and safety regulations dictate that workmen must be trained, and that displays must be installed by hydraulic crane because ladders are "unsafe". The increasing cost means that this year, in gloomy Bodmin in Cornwall, lights are too expensive. And in Sandwell, Worcestershire, the council has given up hanging Christmas lights across its roads in case cables break. Even a lollipop lady in Southampton has been told she can no longer dress in festive fancy dress due to safety concerns [Daily Echo]. And the Royal Bank of Scotland has banned decorations citing them as ‘dangerous’.

Christmas Crackers were also deemed too dangerous when being dispatched to troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan and were ‘defused’ prior to being sent [BBC]. There was a further blow for the Scots Guards Association which had its plans to include alcohol miniatures in the packages scuppered due to alcohol being forbidden in Islamic countries.

Not since the times of Oliver Cromwell has England seen such restrictions of Christmas celebrations which even saw the banning of holly as a decoration. But today’s restrictions are less to do with Puritanism than petty mindedness. There are a few real concerns though, as highlighted on Channel Four’s documentary Dispatches. Christmas toys should be a delight and joy for those fortunate enough to receive gifts this festive season, especially at a time of low spending. But with many fake and dangerous products being sold, some children may be the unfortunate victim of poisoning from lead paint, bacteria infested liquids and tiny powerful magnets which if ingested can cause illness or even death. Meanwhile, tvnewswatch wishes all readers a safe and happy Christmas.

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