The Archbishop of Canterbury has criticised “the weary annual attempts” in Britain to ban Nativity plays and carol-singing.
Dr Rowan Williams described Christmas as “one of the great European exports” and said that people of other religions “love” the Nativity story.
His remarks come just days after his predecessor, Lord Carey, condemned the attempt to “airbrush” the Christian faith “out of the picture” at Christmas.
Dr Williams wrote in the Radio Times: “Christmas is one of the great European exports. You’ll meet Santa Claus and his reindeer in Shanghai and Dar es Salaam – a long way from the North Pole.
“More seriously, the story of the Nativity is loved even in non-Christian contexts.”
He said: “The weary annual attempts by right-thinking people in Britain to ban or discourage Nativity plays or public carol-singing out of sensitivity to the supposed tender consciences of other religions fail to notice that most people of other religions and cultures both love the story and respect the message.”
Dr Williams said that the “story of defenceless love – even when wrapped up in all the bizarre fancy dress of Christmas as it’s developed over the centuries – touches something universal”.
He said that “one of the best and most sensitive recent film re-tellings” of the Nativity story had been made by an Iranian Muslim company.
Dr Williams, who recently blessed hotel kitchen staff in India before they mixed Christmas cake batter, added that the Nativity story “says something is happening that will break boundaries and cross frontiers … there is something here that draws strangers together.”
Earlier this month, Lord Carey said that Britain’s Christian legacy was “under attack”. Citing examples, he said: “The cards that used to carry Christmas wishes now bear ‘Season’s greetings’. The local council switches on ‘winter lights’ in place of Christmas decorations. Even Christmas has become something of which some are ashamed.””