Why we need to P-P-P-put down the penguin

Hi. I'm Andy and I'm a curmudgeon. Scrooge, if you will. Or at least that's how I'll be described when it's revealed I'm boycotting the internet's latest star turn - the John Lewis Penguin. But hear me out...

The cute, flightless, avian has become ubiquitous in the last 24 hours. She (he?) became the most shared character on my social media feeds as soon as John Lewis released their annual Christmas TV advert in what has seemingly become the annual secular starting gun for the Christmas feeding frenzy.

The commercial extravaganzas of Halloween and Bonfire Night are out of the way, so hearts, minds and wallets turn to Christmas - and who better to persuade you to part with money than a penguin starring in the undeniably brilliant advert (which is the latest in a long line of undeniably brilliant John Lewis Christmas ads).

It's easy to be the misery-guts in the corner, railing against what's popular. But I'm not taking against the penguin because she's popular. Taylor Swift is popular and not my cup of tea, but good luck to her. She's probably got Christmas Number One sewn up already, and Easter Number One (is that a thing?), in fact she could probably have a good crack at becoming EU president if she fancied it.

Back to the penguin. I'm upset for a few reasons. Firstly, the timing of the release of the advert isn't just a cynical ploy to make Christmas take up two months of airtime and force us further down the road of consumerism (this is a hackneyed point, maybe, but it also happens to be true). The timing is terrible for another reason. This week is Living Wage Week. It's designed to celebrate the increasing number of employers who are paying their workers a just wage. This idea was founded by Christians, fought for by churches and has been championed by everyone from local congregations to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

But despite their best efforts and despite persuading big companies like HSBC, KPMG and Aviva to pay the Living Wage, there is a glaring omission from the list of Living Wage employers: John Lewis. The company's image as an ethical employer, being owned by its staff and sharing profits equitably is well-deserved. But it's being embarrassingly undermined by their continued refusal to pay their cleaners (who aren't part of their much-vaunted partnership scheme) a Living Wage.

But that's nothing to do with the penguin, I hear you say... Well, no, the penguin doesn't make decisions about salary levels. But last year's John Lewis advert cost seven million pounds to produce. Seven million pounds. Spent on a fluffy advert to make us feel all warm inside. But John Lewis claims it can't afford to pay its cleaning staff at a level at which they can live? Hmmm.

I'm not a killjoy. I love Christmas. I like penguins, I think. Although I've never really met one.

Writing on Christian Today, Martin Saunders says, "these pieces of cultural furniture help us to anticipate and marvel at Christmas - whichever version of it you subscribe to". But I'm not sure Christians should be so gung-ho. Christmas doesn't actually begin until the 25th December (see, I'm a pedant as well as a curmudgeon). In the Christian year we have our own way of anticipating Christmas and the coming of Emmanuel - God with us. It's called Advent. We anticipate the incarnation. We don't shop til we drop, in stores that don't pay their staff well enough to live.

Martin's right - this cultural architecture is important. But Christians shouldn't be taken in by it - penguin or otherwise.

Andy Walton is Communications Officer for The Centre for Theology & Community