Marks & Spencer has been on a rollercoaster since releasing their annual Christmas advertisement on November 1st – and the issue doesn’t appear to be abating anytime soon, as the shop is now being accused of damaging the spirit of Christmas.
The retailer debuted the uplifting commercial with the aid of celebrities Hannah Waddingham, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Zawe Ashton, and Tan France.
The commercial’s goal was to urge people to enjoy Christmas in their own way, rather than doing what tradition expects of them, such as building gingerbread houses, playing charades, wearing hats and gathering around board games.
‘This Christmas, do what you love,’ the commercial states, as the Queer Eye star cheerfully discards a board game, the Murder on the Dancefloor singer blowtorches decorations, and the Ted Lasso actress tears her Christmas hat into confetti.
However, an outtake that was subsequently published aroused uproar since it featured red, green, and silver party hats burning in a fire grate, which some mistook for the colours of the Palestinian flag amid Israel’s current battle with Hamas.
This comes as Israel continues to launch heavy strikes on Gaza in retribution for the October 7 terrorist assault on Israeli citizens carried out by Hamas. As of November 4, 9,488 Palestinians, including 3,900 children, had been killed by Israeli attacks on Gaza.
M&S apologised for ‘any inadvertent harm caused’ and withdrew the post in a statement, saying that the advertisement was shot in August.
Since Queer Eye’s Tan defended the advertisement, saying that it was shot before the conflict began, it has created even more criticism.
Unexpectedly, Katharine Birbalsingh, the principal of Michaela Community School in Wembley and frequently referred to as ‘Britain’s harshest headteacher,’ took objection to the commercial, not because of the colour of the hats, but because of the message behind it.
Katharine voiced her ‘great sadness’ at our ‘national department shop’ failing to ‘keep the spirit of Christmas alive’ for the, well, youngsters in a letter of complaint she sent to M&S and uploaded on X, previously Twitter.
She began in the lengthy letter: ‘I feel compelled to write to you to express my deep disappointment and outrage at your Christmas advert for 2023. You have a duty as our national department store to keep the spirit of Christmas alive for the sake of our children.
‘When our nation is on its knees, trying to keep our spirits high for what we can all achieve together, this is not the time for you to encourage people to ignore the inspirational spirit of Christmas of self-sacrifice, gratitude, giving of one’s time and finances to help one’s fellow man, of children’s laughter, of magical tales of Father Christmas, of kindness and of beauty, and instead tell us to “do whatever we want for ourselves”.’
Birbalsingh continued: ‘I run an inner-city school in London, where we try hard to instil values of decency daily in our children. When Marks and Spencer puts two fingers up to these values, it makes our lives as teachers much more difficult and it stifles social mobility and happiness for our children, in particular for the disadvantaged.’
Quoting the character Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, Birbalsingh said ‘selfishness is not what Christmas is about’ before asking: ‘How can you do this to our country at such a time as this? Shame on you!’
She continued, dramatically: ‘May God, or Allah, or Vishnu take pity on you!’
The teacher then asked M&S to take the advert down. ‘You can do better,’ she said.
‘We want our children to do more than exist as the old Ebenezer did, building his chain. We want our children to LIVE,’ she concluded. ‘Please do not undermine us in this endeavour.’
She called for fellow X users not to ‘sit this one out’ and take action in campaigning against the advert.
The letter sparked much online mockery. ‘What a waste of time,’ commented one person. ‘You are arguing in favour of the most superficial and commercial aspects of Christmas to be maintained while ignoring the pressure and stress both emotional and financial that ideal puts on struggling families. Disgraceful.’
Former Top Gear presenter James May also chimed in and said: ‘Good grief. Marks and Spencer is not our ‘national department store’. That will be John Lewis. Marks and Spencer is our national pants supplier. Get it right. You’re a “teacher”.’
A day later, M&S unveiled yet another holiday gift, this time collaborating with Hollywood celebrities Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, who also happen to be the proprietors of Wrexham Football Club.
Merry Christmas, everyone!