As the festive season approaches, a very old story claiming that the British Red Cross has banned Christmas and ordered staff to remove decorations 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, we sell Christmas cards and host Christmas Markets and fairs every year.

Volunteers at the Kensington Town Hall Christmas fair

Volunteers at the Kensington Town Hall Christmas fair

 As the following blog explains, this myth is based on a misleading 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  claiming that ‘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 Nov 2013 – 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.

The point is that the Red Cross is not a political or religious organisation. This neutrality is one of ourfundamental 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!

Original post: Alix Miller