“Although Christianity is the biggest religion in the EU, they want to forbid the large majority of the population from using certain words connected with Christianity,” claims a post in Serbian on Telegram published on December 4, 2023, on a channel which has repeatedly published false information checked by AFP like herehere and here. “The EU Commissioner ‘for equality’ believes that words like ‘Christmas’ or Christian names like Mary are discriminatory in the newly published ‘guidelines’, the Berliner Zeitung reports,” the post reads below a screenshot of an article with the headline in English “EU guide considers Christmas and Mary to be discriminatory”.

An image reverse search for results published in December 2023 shows that this screenshot and claim are circulating in many languages on various social media platforms in CroatianEnglishPolish and Hungarian. The earliest post that AFP could find was published in Russian on Telegram on December 3, 2023, on a channel that has previously shared false information. For example, it shared a video claiming to  show Gaza bombed by Israel when it actually showed Ariha in Syria bombed by the Syrian regime and its Russian ally.

A further search led to the original article published in the Berliner Zeitung  on its website in 2021 in German. Neither the publication date (December 1, 2021) nor the author’s name appear on the screenshot. The false claim that the EU had “banned the use of the word Christmas in any context” based on a misrepresentation of guidelines published in 2021 had circulated at the time in Serbian and Croatian. AFP debunked the claim here. The document in question does not impose a ban on the use of the word “Christmas”, but recommends an alternative when referring to end-of-year holiday celebrations while respecting the diversity of people living in the European Union.

The photo in the article and the screenshot show Helena Dalli, the EU Commissioner for Equality whose mandate ends in 2024. The photo was taken on October 20, 2021, during a debate on the rise of right-wing extremism and racism in Europe in a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, AFP archives show.

Dalli announced the publication of the guide for inclusive communication in the executive body of the European Union on October 26, 2021, but the document was withdrawn on November 30 the same year in face of the controversy that arose over the misleading claim that the EU was, through this document, “banning the use of the word Christmas”.

What did the now-withdrawn guidelines say?

AFP obtained in 2021 a copy of the guidelines published by the EU Commission with the title: “#Union of equality Guidelines of the European Commission for inclusive communication.” 

“The purpose of this document is to set common standards for inclusive communication and provide practical examples and advice to all colleagues from the Commission,” the introduction states.

It adds that “the recommendations in this document can be useful for creating any type of communication material, including press materials (press releases and questions and answers), informational content and infographics, posts and visuals for social media, training materials and presentations, materials used in internal communication, speeches and texts, briefings.”

The document is, therefore, not intended for member states, politicians or people living in the European Union, but simply makes a series of recommendations about the way in which employees should communicate on behalf of the Commission.

The document does not forbid the use of the word “Christmas”, but recommends phrases such as “for those celebrating Christmas, Hanukah…”, and saying things like “holiday times can be stressful”  instead of Christmas time can be stressful”.

The claim that the EU is forbidding the use of “Christian names” is a misunderstanding. A “Christian name” is an old-fashioned term for “a given name” in English. The recommendation, therefore, was to avoid using the term “Christian name”, and replacing it with other terms such as”first name, forename or given name”. The document also recommended avoiding the use of names only connected to one religion but varying them to reflect diversity.

EU Commissioner Dalli has wished a merry Christmas publicly on X (ex-Twitter) in December 20202021 and 2022. She also marked other religious celebrations like Ramadan and Chanukah.

The EU is a growing target of disinformation, as the Union prepares for the EU Parliament elections in 2024. EU-related false information is tracked by the European Digital Media Observatory’s (EDMO) Task Force and by fact-checking organizations. AFP in Slovakia debunked for instance the claim that proposed changes in the EU’s functioning would turn the Union into “a military federation”. In Bulgaria, images from a fringe anti-EU rally by a small French far-right party without any representation in the French Parliament were misrepresented as showing an alleged anti-EU feeling in France. In January 2023, posts falsely claiming that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had announced his country’s leaving the EU circulated in many languages, including Serbian and Croatian.


All articles

AFP Belgrade

All articles

Translation : Anna Maria JAKUBEK


Follow us

Fact Check

Copyright © AFP 2017-2023. All rights reserved. Users can access and consult this website and use the share features available for personal, private, and non-commercial purposes. Any other use, in particular any reproduction, communication to the public or distribution of the content of this website, in whole or in part, for any other purpose and/or by any other means, without a specific licence agreement signed with AFP, is strictly prohibited. The subject matter depicted or included via links within the Fact Checking content is provided to the extent necessary for correct understanding of the verification of the information concerned. AFP has not obtained any rights from the authors or copyright owners of this third party content and shall incur no liability in this regard. AFP and its logo are registered trademarks.