Word spread quickly. The talkback callers were incensed.

"They want to ban Christmas!" exclaimed first one, then another, then more and more men and women.

They couldn't tell me who "they" were. But it was "them", all right. Those people who don't look like us, don't dress like us and don't speak English.

The news that "they" wanted to ban Christmas was the catalyst for revealing other horrors "they" had perpetrated.

Advertisement

They got rid of the Nativity play at a school someone's friend's granddaughter had gone to. They spat on a woman that someone's neighbour's cousin knew, because she was wearing shorts.

They were taking over this country and we were all too damned PC to rise up to stop them.

For the record, the reason for this sudden and contagious outbreak of outrage was the Auckland Regional Migrant Services (Arms) agency had issued invitations to a festive lunch, a move taken so non-Christians and those who don't celebrate Christmas didn't feel excluded.

Basically, it's an end-of-year bash, similar to those held in every office and workplace around the country.

Some businesses call them Christmas parties, others end-of-year parties - in this case, Arms chose to call it a festive lunch, have been doing so for years, but this year, it became an issue.

The story went viral. I don't know why. Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy's comments couldn't have been more anodyne.

"Arms works hard to include peoples from all faiths to work together in peace and diversity," Dame Susan said.

"Arms uses language that will encompass and include everyone; it is not designed to exclude anyone."

Somehow, her remarks were interpreted to mean she supported Christmas being expunged from our landscape and she became a target for people to vent their respective spleens.

The post of Race Relations Commissioner was vilified, her ability to do the job was questioned - even her prowess at squash was scoffed at, which is pretty rich given she is a four-time world squash champion.

READ MORE:

Susan Devoy and Bishop Ross Bay: Should we use 'Season's greetings' instead of 'Christmas' for migrants?

Dr Mary Dawson: Trust not banning Christmas

She was forced to defend her position after a barrage of criticism. She explained she and her family had always celebrated Christmas, would continue to celebrate Christmas and she was simply saying that people were entitled to celebrate festive occasions as they wished.

"New Zealanders don't like being told what to do and we are mature enough to decide how to celebrate our special days in our own ways," Dame Susan reiterated.

And if that means some want to call a Christmas lunch a festive lunch, they can. The massive over-reaction says more about us than it does about "them".

It says a lot of people, particularly some older people, feel insecure and threatened. The world around them is changing and they don't like it.

They can quite believe that a group could force this country to do away with not just the word Christmas, but with the whole celebration - even though that is as unlikely as the Christmas story itself.

The furore over the flag is another sign that many people find the world a strange and unfamiliar place. But fear can quickly turn to anger, especially if people choose a soft target.

Most of us rub along well together. We come from different ethnicities, different faiths and we can work, live and play together without tension or disunity.

At many hospitals around the country, non-Christian staff will offer to work the busy Christmas season for their Christian colleagues and when their particular special days come around, their Christian colleagues will return the favour. We're all getting along okay.

As Dame Susan pointed out, "This year's Global Peace Index announced that we live in one of the most peaceful nations on Earth.

As well as one of the most peaceful nations, New Zealand is one of the most ethnically diverse nations on the planet. Whether we choose to pass on that reputation to our children is up to us."

Don't have a go at "them" for trying to get rid of Christmas - they aren't trying to. Instead, have a go at businesses that seem to be doing their best to suck the meaning out of Christmas with incessant advertising and Christmas deals.

And remember, it's a time for peace and goodwill to all men - not just those who look and sound like you do.

Kerre McIvor is on Newstalk ZB, Monday-Thursday, 8pm-midnight