So what do we call it?

In some ways it seems appropriate; Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, a Jew. This year, with yet another dumb attempt to drop the religious side of Christmas, in fact the very name of the holiday from the public square, it was a Jewish group speaking out loudly to say, no.

Every year, just before Christmas, politicians tie themselves into knots trying to make sure they offend no one; usually failing miserably. This year it was Quebec Premier Jean Charest, who, in the name of diversity and a multicultural Quebec, changed the Christmas tree that sits outside the provincial legislature into a Holiday tree. Well actually, Quebec being mostly a French province, he changed it from a “sapin de Noel” to a “grand sapin des Fetes” or Big Holiday tree.

This is not the first time Christmas has gotten Mr. Charest into trouble. Two years ago, this leader of the cradle of Catholicism in North America was taken to task for refusing to utter the words Merry Christmas. Instead, Mr. Charest offered best wishes. In 2007, he seemed to gauge the public mood correctly and sent Christmas greetings. This year, Charest has stepped into the mud of political correctness yet again.

Enter B’Nai Brith. Allen Adel, the Canadian president of the international human rights and advocacy group, responded to the tree incident saying, “Quebeckers should be welcome to mark the religious and cultural uniqueness of their holidays, including, for example, Christmas trees in public places, or menorahs being displayed during the Chanukah season. Our goal should be to ensure that all religions have a place in the cultural fabric of Quebec society.”

I doubt this will be the end of this ongoing story; politicians seem to love messing around with what we call the festive holiday that falls on December 25th and journalists, like myself, seem to revel in pointing it out to an enraged public. But is the public truly enraged at this if it takes a Jewish group to stand up for the right of Christians to call a Christmas tree a Christmas tree?

In 2002, staff at Toronto’s City Hall decided to sacrifice their Christmas tree to the altar of political correctness and issued a news release announcing that the massive fir standing in the public square outside was now a Holiday tree. The public was outraged at the decision. It took Mayor Mel Lastman, a Jewish mayor, to tell city staffers that the tree was a Christmas tree and that that is what it would be called.

As a parliamentary reporter, I usually get Christmas cards at my office from politicians. Many of them I don’t really know; sometimes they are simply generated by a list of media contacts supplied by a staff member. Yet these cards do give me some joy, unfortunately not the kind one would want from Christmas cards. I play a game each year to see which politicians are brave enough to actually mention a religious holiday in their festive cards.

The truth is few have that kind of bravery, most opt for the bland “Happy Holidays” or even worse “Seasons Greetings” on cards featuring snowy scenes or pine trees – no mention of whether said tree is of the Christmas or Holiday variety. Other cards are utterly ridiculous. One cabinet member sent me a card featuring his family wearing shorts and t-shirts at the beach; the saying inside? “Happy Holidays”. Which holidays would that be I wonder, the August long weekend or Labour Day? It really is the equivalent of wishing someone a happy bank holiday Monday.

Two Members of Parliament sent out joint cards a few years ago that also showed how little they thought of the reason cards are traditionally sent this time of year. On the front was again a summer like setting; this time though, the picture showed two grown men in chino pants and sport shirts making their way down a double slide at a toddlers play park. Ah, nothing says Christmas quite like grown men on slides!

Much of this move to celebrate the lights, the gifts and trappings of a modern Christmas without mentioning the religious side comes from a mistaken idea of what multiculturalism is. Multiculturalism is derided by many on the right as a watering down of the dominant culture, making it subservient to the ways of newcomers. It should not be this way, but the actions of many on the progressive left make it so. As industrialized nations welcome more immigrants, we are told that traditions, such as the public celebration of Christmas must go by the wayside.

I actually had one well-meaning leftist tell me that it was wrong to have public displays of Christian traditions when there were obviously so many immigrants in the country. What, I asked, told this person that the immigrants she was so concerned about were not themselves Christian? The shockingly ignorant answer was “they’re brown”. It was a stunning answer given that the area I was living in at the time was seeing a large increase in population from the Philippines, South and Central America, all areas that are heavily Christian, just like the new immigrants my acquaintance was so concerned about offending.

As politicians seek to mark our religious holidays while giving a nod to multiculturalism, they would be wise to heed the lesson learned by Canadian discount retailer Zellers a number of years ago. Zellers renamed all of their Christmas items as Holiday items. People shopping for Christmas trees or Christmas wrapping paper were instead offered Holiday wrapping paper and Holiday trees. The public was having none of it, numerous protests, including from my wife, ensued. Beginning the next year, Zellers chose to mark Christmas as Christmas. They also marked Chanukah, Ramadan, Diwali and a number of other religious festivals by their proper names.

It is a lesson at least one Canadian politician has learned. Since taking office, Prime Minister has sent out cards wishing not only a Merry Christmas but also a Happy Chanukah and the generic Happy Holidays. It is a move that has made religious observers of those holidays happy and strict secularists grit their teeth. The cards sit fine with me and with B’Nai Brith, I’m guessing. So Merry Christmas everyone, unless your holidays start on December 21st, in which case, Happy Chanukah.

Brian Lilley is Ottawa Bureau Chief for radio stations 1010 CFRB in Toronto and CJAD 800 in Montreal. He is also Associate Editor of Mercatornet.


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