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noun [countable/uncountable]

a period of festivities which takes place in the middle of winter, including Christmas and other religious or secular festivals

'I'm all for honouring other faith groups' special days and will gladly wish any agnostics "Happy Winterval" …'

Halifax Evening Courier 28th November 2009

This festive season, you'll no doubt be sending and receiving Winterval cards, decorating your beautiful Winterval tree, and tucking into a delicious portion of Winterval pudding. If all this sounds a bit odd, consider that the word Christmas is rather biased towards one particular religious persuasion. In an effort to embrace all religions, not just Christianity, during the festive season, the term Winterval has been suggested as a politically-correct alternative which potentially encompasses Jewish Hanukkah, Afro-Caribbean Kwanzaa, Hindu Diwali and pagan festivals such as Yule or the winter solstice.

with only a small percentage of the … population going to church … there's a convincing case for adopting the word Winterval as a generic reference to the festive period

The word Christmas is derived from Old English Cristes mass, meaning literally, 'mass of Christ'. Conventional dictionary definitions of Christmas define it as 'an annual Christian festival celebrating Christ's birth, held on 25th December', yet we all know that, in reality, the word Christmas represents a period from early December to New Year's Eve, in which people party, eat special food, give presents and, just maybe, set foot in a Christian place of worship. With only a small percentage of the British population going to church, a long established multicultural society, and secular rather than religious traditions dominating the celebrations, some might argue that there's a convincing case for adopting the word Winterval as a generic reference to the festive period.

Background – Winterval

Winterval is a blend of the words Winter and festival, which first hit the spotlight in 1998 when it was used by Birmingham City Council in the UK. In an effort to create a more multicultural atmosphere in keeping with the city's mix of ethnic groups, the council introduced the term to describe a three month period of multi-faith and secular events running from October to January. Not surprisingly the term was the subject of some controversy, prompting a reaction from Christian leaders in the city who claimed that it was 'a totally unnecessary example of political correctness to avoid sensitivities people simply do not have' (The Archdeacon of Aston). In response, the council defended its actions by claiming that 'Christmas is the very heart of Winterval' and pointing out that Christmas-themed events were prominent in the schedule and its related publicity material.

Unsurprisingly, the Council dropped the use of Winterval in subsequent years but had unwittingly sparked a wider debate, one which continues to surface on a seasonal basis. In 2009, the term has cropped up in relation to discussions about the UK government's newly proposed "Equality Bill", which includes proposals relating to religious sensitivities.

Given that fierce arguments are likely to persist between those who want to 'include all' and those who want to preserve the Christian roots of the festive season, Winterval seems destined to remain one of those words which is much talked about, but seldom used 'for real'. Let me therefore grab the rare opportunity to wish all BuzzWord readers a:

Merry Winterval and Happy New Year!

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 23rd December 2009.

Open Dictionary


a form of location that involves the underwater detonation of a bomb which causes sound waves that are picked up by ships

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