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How the Red Cross didn’t ban Christmas

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Update: November 2013

As the festive season approaches, a very old (and inaccurate) story claiming that the British Red Cross has banned Christmas has once again surfaced through social media and various websites.

 Just to reiterate: we have never ‘banned Christmas’, nor asked shop volunteers to take down decorations. In fact, many of our shops are decorated during the Christmas period and we sell Christmas cards.

 As the following blog explains, this myth is based on a factually incorrect newspaper article that was written more than a decade ago. This blog post was originally posted on Dec 17 2010.

 

Yesterday, we started getting some comments on our Facebook page from people angry with us for ‘banning// Christmas’, which we haven’t, and the story now seems to be spreading on some American websites.

It turns out that these people have stumbled across an article  headlined ‘The Red Cross bans Christmas’ that appeared in the Daily Mail in 2002 and now forms part of the paper’s online archive. Unfortunately, the article isn’t dated on the Mail’s site, which had led some people to believe this was a current news story – although references in it to Sangatte, the Calais refugee camp that closed in 2002, do serve to date it. We denied the gist of the piece strongly at the time. [update – the article is now dated]

Christmas is a major UK holiday and time of celebration, which is shared by people of all faiths and those of no faith. Many of our shops and offices are decked out in festive decorations around this time of year – we also sell a range of Christmas cards and gifts in our shops, both high street and online.

It’s true that you won’t find explicitly religious items or displays, relating to any faith, in any of our shops, at Christmas or any other time. But this certainly doesn’t amount to a ban on us celebrating or mentioning Christmas, or any other holiday. And it’s absolutely nothing to do with “offending non-Christians” or to serve any other sort of politically correct agenda.

The point is that the Red Cross is not a political or religious organisation. This neutrality is one of our fundamental principles and governs everything we do in the whole Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. It means that we can reach and help people in need, whoever and wherever they are. Often we provide help in countries that other organisations cannot or will not work in.
We cross front lines in times of war to help conflict victims and visit prisoners of war on both sides. We can only do this life-saving work because we are understood to be a completely neutral, independent organisation. Put simply, our neutrality saves lives.

We can’t let people in need down by compromising our neutrality. That is why we do not align ourselves with any particular political cause or religious creed anywhere in the world. And that’s why we don’t have any items of a religious nature in our shops.

A nativity scene in a shop in Kent might seem like it has nothing to do with our sensitive, precarious work in a war zone in Africa or the Middle East. But in a world where information travels quickly and pervasively – a world where an eight-year-old news story is still raising questions with our supporters – we have to make sure we act consistently across the board with regard to our neutrality.

We wish all our supporters a merry Christmas and a happy new year!

10 things you didn't know about the Red Cross

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1. During the Second World War, as well as sending food parcels, we sent artificial limbs to wing commander Douglas Bader in a parcel while he was a prisoner of war. We also sent more than 14,000 musical instruments to POWs, resulting in orchestras at 100 camps. Books were also provided for recreational and study purposes.

2. When celebrity supporter Stephen Fry tweeted about our Pakistan Floods Appeal recently, he helped us reach 2.5 million people on Twitter.

3. We have one web-footed volunteer – a dog called Loki. The Newfoundland is a member of the water rescue team in Northern Scotland and prized for his life-saving prowess in water, in case of  floods.

4. Agatha Christie was a voluntary aid detachment for the Red Cross during the First World War  and Second World War.

5. As well as donations to our emergency appeals, we receive some more unusual things in the post from the public, such as a prosthetic leg..and tea bags.

6. Our fourth most profitable charity shop – taking nearly £100,000 profit already this year – is situated in a sunken car park, off the beaten track, in Banchory, Scotland.

7. Percy Lane Oliver, a British Red Cross volunteer, set up the UK’s first blood collection service in 1921. The Red Cross supported the NHS with blood transfusion until 1987.

8. Rudyard Kipling helped with our war library, which supplied free books and magazines to sick and wounded soldiers and sailors in the UK and abroad during the First World War.

9. The Red Cross worked with the Department of health to produce dressings made of moss throughout the Second World War. There was substantial demand from hospitals which led to a huge saving in the use of cotton wool. The dressings were made by Red Cross work parties throughout Scotland. By June 1945, there were sufficient stocks. During the war 83,616 dressings were dispatched from Ayrshire, 35,475 from the Glasgow regional centre, and 35 sacks and 2037 dressings from Lanarkshire.

10. It may only be October, but our Christmas cards are already available  online.