BY TRACY-JO SMITH
C \ 1.11()I.t( • public figures have strongly criticised a Government department for sending out Christmas cards devoid of any reference to Christianity.
The Department for Culture Media and Sport claimed it did not want to offend followers of non-Christian religions.
The cards, sent out in their hundreds by the ministry, bear the inscription 'Season's Greetings as it was thought 'Happy Christmas' might insult religious minorities.
The cards feature images of television, music and sport and the word Goal in crude yellow capital letters dominates the design. The garish creation includes also a cycle race a barely distinguishable painting of a guitarist, children's amateur artwork, and random details from modern art.
Furthermore, the Royal Mail has also joined the seasonal humbug by producing a number of consecutive secular stamp issues.
A spokesman said: "Finding new designs for Christmas stamps is a challenge. The Nativity has been extensively depicted and we are always looking for new and attractive ways to present non-secular Christmas Stamp issues."
Ann Widdecombe, Conservative MP for Maidstone and a Catholic, criticised the decision to secularise Christmas cards. She said: "It's disgraceful, particularly from a Government that has a PM who has made much about his Christian values. It is a complete abdication from recognising Britain as a Christian country. The Department should be ashamed of itself."
John Gummer, a Catholic Herald columnist and MP for Suffolk Coastal, said: "No-one can respect the culture and religion of others unless they respect their own culture and religion. The Department should be ashamed itself. Christmas is about the birth of -Jesus. To exclude Christians from Christmas is political correctness gone mad."
Jim Dobbin, Labour MP for Heywood and Middleton, said: -The Government seems to be losing its focus. It's a Christian festival and has nothing to do with other religions. The idea is totally mad."
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham was equally offended. He said: "Many Christians will feel distressed by the decision of the Department to ban the symbols of the Christmas feast on its official Christmas card this year. People of genuine faith are not offended by signs of sincere faith."
Peter Jennings. a Catholic Fellow of the Royal Philatelic Society, criticised Royal Mail. He said: "This Christmas, Royal Mail has yet again issued a set of obscure stamps that have nothing whatsoever to do with the celebration of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. I encourage Catholics not to buy these stamps and stamp collectors to ignore them."
Neville Kyrke-Smith of Aid to the Church in Need said: "We cannot sell Christmas down the line. This is bending over backwards to political correctness and religious correctness which is an empty void — we are forgetting our Christian heritage and letting the West become a mausoleum of Christianity, rather than reflecting a living faith. We sell many thousands of Christmas cards which help raise funds for those persecuted and oppressed for their faith."
A Department for Culture spokesman said: it had been decided that 'Season's Greetings' would be more appropriate a message than 'Happy Christmas' because the cards would be sent to people of varying faiths.
"We did have conversations about which ways we should go with the overall design of the card ... in the end we decided to go for something that reflected the different sectors we are involved in. We put our hands up and acknowledge that what we have produced will not he right for everyone."
Editorial comment: Page 9 John Ryan: Page 9