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Canada: Rising multicultural society encourages ‘Happy Holidays’ over Christmas terminologycomment (0)

December 23, 2010

By Lois Mitchell

Lois Mitchell is justice initiatives coordinator for Canadian Baptist Ministries, a national partnership of four Baptist conventions and unions serving more than 1,000 Baptist congregations and 250,000 people who worship across Canada in 32 languages.

Canada is an intentionally and proudly multicultural and pluralistic society. Religious freedom is unambiguously embedded in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, many Canadian Christians feel increasingly marginalized by the political correctness of inclusion and diversity.

In recent years, it has become inconsiderate and a breach of multiculturalism to use time-honored and traditional Christmas language. Thus, for example, it’s more acceptable to say “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” than “Merry Christmas.”

Similarly a “Christmas Tree” is now a “Holiday Tree,” and Christmas music is a mix of traditional carols and an increasing array of non-Christian songs of cheer. Nativity scenes are generally not welcome in public places, although they’re fine in private homes or in churches.

The Christmas season, though enthusiastically celebrated, has been thoroughly secularized. It’s all about shopping and gift giving, culinary indulgence, festive adornments — both inside and out — and shifting the emphasis from busyness as usual, to busyness with an added social emphasis with family, friends and co-workers.

In spite of the individualism of our society and our time, there remains a spirit of “good will” — communities of all sizes and political persuasion find creative ways to encourage charitable giving for the sake of the “less fortunate among us.”

The Christmas season begins for many in mid-November and extends into the new year. As Christmas Day approaches, there is an expectation that families will spend the holiday together, but with the dramatic increase in the rate of family breakdown in Canada, this is more and more challenging. Cards are still exchanged but more and more people resort to digital communication, sending greetings and family updates by e-mail.

Perhaps because of the excessive commercialization of Christmas in secular society and the efforts to neutralize the Christian message of the season, Baptists in Canada seem to be making efforts to reclaim the holiday.

While gift giving still is practiced, there has been a real shift toward giving to the poor and marginalized, both locally and globally. More and more churches are involved in compassionate ministries in their own communities, and through the proliferation of gift-giving options for overseas projects through Christian charities, many Baptists now give a significant portion of their personal gift-giving budgets in the form of donations to these organizations.

Traditions such as Christmas concerts and musicals and special Christmas Eve services still play a prominent role in many, perhaps most, Baptist churches in Canada.

There also seems to be a renewed interest — especially in small towns and rural areas — in caroling in the neighborhood, going from house to house and singing Christmas carols, especially to those who are shut-ins.

My favorite thing about Christmas in Canada is the general sense of goodwill that permeates both secular society and the church. Despite the commercialization — and maybe in a weird way partly because of it — that is, when shopping produces an artificial “high” that causes a short-term elevation of mood — there seems to be a deep sense of community and care for one another. For a few weeks, an emphasis on peace and goodwill pierces through the otherwise callous drive for self-fulfillment and personal prosperity.

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