Christmas is all about traditions, to me.
Whether it is Christian church services celebrating the birth of Christ, cities adorning the streets with festive lights, parades depicting Santa as the focal point of the festivities, or families participating in their traditional Christmas activities and eating their traditional Christmas foods, the activities all depict how the traditions have evolved in this country – widespread or specific to a particular region, such as “mumming,” which is a Christmas version of Halloween practiced in Newfoundland and Labrador.
All of these traditions are interesting to me, as I believe they collectively support who we are as Canadians, and I am glad that we are past the politically correct nonsense that tried to cleanse Christ from Christmas and dismiss the traditional salutation of Merry Christmas.
And if we aren’t, we should be.
People who come to Canada bring their own traditions that they still adhere to while also trying to learn and adapt to the customs and traditions of Canada.
I experienced this growing up in east Vancouver, which was made up of immigrants from all across the world.
As kids, we played together in the streets and learned of each other’s traditions. However, the best part was indulging in the sweets at Christmas time, such as the rice dumplings from the Japanese family, who did not celebrate Christmas, and the Ukrainian kolach that my friend’s mom made – their traditional Christmas bread.
Having helped with the Christmas Hamper registration this year, I had the pleasure of meeting a number of Syrian families who are anxious to be included in the activities and were happy to know that there was an opportunity for their kids to meet Santa and that they would be partaking in a traditional turkey dinner.
A younger Syrian couple indicated, through broken English, that they look forward to the day that they, too, can volunteer and give back to the organizations that have been assisting them. As new families to this country, they were given the opportunity to embrace the traditions of Christmas.
The tradition of helping people who are less fortunate is a huge part of our Christmas traditions, with many of the activities anchored within the spirit of giving, such as the Salvation Army Kettles, the Christmas Hamper, where families sponsor other families for Christmas, the CP Holiday Train, which supports our local food bank, and hundreds of other fundraisers taking place.
The support is offered to people whether they celebrate Christmas or not, because the tradition of doing service for others, which is a strong Christian value, has evolved into a Canadian one.
I am not ignoring the fact that Christmas originated from the history of the Christian faith and that Canada is made up of many people who practice religions other than Christianity, and respecting such is important.
However, I have always felt the movement to remove any reference of Christ from the Christmas Season to the point that people stumbled over the long-held tradition of wishing someone “Merry Christmas” was driven by fringe elements that caught the attention of the politically correct who then tried to convince everyone such salutations were offensive.
As someone who is not religious, I personally have never been offended by the religious aspect of our Christmas traditions in Canada and continue to doubt that it actually is an issue for Canadians, in general.
In reality, as a society, we are going to continue to evolve in our adaptations to the differences that people bring to Canada and I did appreciate that the public education system made a move towards “winter” themed events, as opposed to Christmas events, since we had already agreed to take religion out of our public schools.
And because students are essentially captive audiences, it is more respectful for school districts to move toward holiday activities that are either inclusive of all religions or void of all, so that every student is given an opportunity to be a full participant in their school’s activities.
On a personal front, our family has a number of Christmas traditions, but I have always tried to maintain the practice of not letting Christmas creep into our house until after Dec. 9, which is my birthday.
And for the most part, it has worked.
However, delaying Christmas has never had anything to do with allowing the enjoyment of birthday celebrations and has had everything to do with providing a legitimate reason to delay decorating the house. Not that I don’t love the final product, because I do, but dragging out the Christmas decorations from the crawl space, which requires physical moves better left to a contortionist, and debating with my husband year after year about the necessity of Christmas lights on the house, requires the pressure of seeing the rest of the community bloom into the season.
Yes, arguing over the lights and how many should go up on the house is a useless tradition, which I understand from a recent conversation at my boot camp is a shared tradition amongst other couples. However, millions of families like ours have many happier Christmas traditions that bring joy to them and saying Merry Christmas is one way to express that joy and it should never have been portrayed as something offensive.
Moving into the holiday season, I am fully prepared to wish people Merry Christmas, ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Seasons Greetings,’ but rest assured they all mean that I am happy to see you, so please don’t be offended, because we live in a country that respects that Christ is part of Christmas for many families and the salutation is one of our many traditions.
Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge school trustee, city councillor, constituency assistant and citizen of the year, and currently president of ARMS.