Sunday, November 29, 2009

Christmas ... What's In A Name?

Christmas Eve
George Goodwin Kilburne

Well, Tuesday is December 1st, the official start of that tradition which everyone has come to know and love -- Jo's Christmas lecture essay. I love Christmas. It is definitely my favorite holiday. There is something special and magical about Christmas. And yes, yes, I know, Christmas has its roots in Paganism. I know, I know... the lights, the tree... I know, I know. There is probably something slightly Pagan in every ancient cultural tradition, and Christmas is no different than any of the other traditions. The only difference to me is that it is part of my culture, my tradition.

I am always happy to share my tradition of Christmas, just as I am honored to be invited to share the traditions of Diwali, Ramadan, Chanukah, and all the wonderful other traditions that each culture has nurtured over the centuries. One of my favorite events of the year is the Chinese New Year here in Vancouver. One year I had the honor of being invited to share Chinese New Year with a Chinese family. We went to a gorgeous Chinese restaurant, and all the little boys wore ties, and the little girls wore red velvet dresses with white lace collars. It is an experience I will always treasure.

There has been a movement in the past decade or so to make Christmas all-inclusive, to call it "holiday" and to expunge any reference to Christmas. Well, Christmas has always been inclusive -- never exclusive. Changing the name to "holiday" does not change the inclusivity of Christmas. It belongs to everyone, but it is still Christmas. How on earth did we allow Christmas to become politically incorrect?

Christmas is very much a part of my family and cultural tradition. I was raised in the Anglican Church, and a big part of Christmas for me was the Christmas pageant -- both at church and at school -- and the wonderful, magical midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Over the years Christmas has become more secular and everyone participates, and that's okay with me. The idea of Christianity, after all, is about sharing, don't you agree? It is the main principle of all religions. And although many of us move away from our religious roots during the years, we never really leave them. Christmas is the time of year when food banks and other charitable organizations fill their shelves. People become more thoughtful. If you look in the Thesaurus under the word "charitable" you will also see the word "tolerant".

Tolerance is something we have all learned to practice, as we become a more global society. As we learn more about each other's cultures, we find many beautiful things that we didn't know about before. I'm fortunate to work with people from Japan, China, the Philippines, Israel, Mexico, the United States, Iran, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Great Britain, France, Holland, South Africa, India -- and so many more. The one thing I have noticed -- universally -- is that all of these folks are proud of their cultures and traditions. When they bring a special traditional food to share with us at work, they always tell a story of how their mother used to prepare it for special occasions. There is a poignant gleam in their eyes when they tell the stories and share the special dish with us.

It is not right to ask any culture to homogenize their traditions and customs -- to take away from their culture -- just so that other folks will not be "offended". And so it is not right to ask me to change -- water down, if you will -- my Christmas. It is part of my culture and traditions, and it is Christmas -- not "holiday". So, I would respectfully request you to be tolerant of me and my customs, and celebrate Christmas with me. I'm happy to share it. Just don't ask me to give it away and change it into something unrecognizable to me, in order that someone else won't be offended. No offence is meant in my asking you to share my Christmas. Hey ... I'm also happy to share my rum and eggnog.

Now, get out there and enjoy the CHRISTMAS season...!


susie said...

Great post, Jo. Christmas is a tradition for many people, and it should remain Christmas.

It bothers me that it has become a political thing.

And, you're right, I enjoy the celebrations of others, and I don't ask that they change theirs because I don't agree.

So anyway, I hope that you continue with your Christmas posts, I always enjoy reading your posts.

Kathryn said...

Merry Christmas (or more accurately right now, Advent) Jo.

I appreciate your post. Much of the push these days is to remove everything that makes us unique & individual.


ivan said...

The shadowy agents who influence our thought seem to ask us to make choices.
Santa Claus, or Donald Duck?

Miranda said...

I hate that it has blown out of proportion with the "holiday" vs. "Christmas" in the end does it really matter? It's a season of love and caring and giving. Why does it have to turn into political bull-

Thank you for writing so wonderfully!

The Bug said...

I'd like to celebrate Christmas - & then also to be more mindful & learn more about other holiday customs (Hanukkah & Kwanza). That way the season will feel even richer!

My husband & I have written Christmas poems each year for the last 17 years. I'm going to post one a day leading up to Christmas Day. It might get kind of boring, but I hope it helps people be more plugged into the holiday.

Jennifer D said...

Beautiful post Jo, very well said.
Merry Christmas.

Country Girl said...

I was talking about this very same subject today with a friend. I had mentioned Christmas on my blog and said she was so glad I hadn't said holiday.
It's because it's Christmas and there's no other word for it.

Kathy's Klothesline said...

I am too old and stubborn to change. It has always been Christmas and will always be Christmas. To call it anything else is just silly.

Alissa said...

I am probably one of the least religious people I know, and I love Christmas. So, I am not sure who we are trying to appease by trying to call Christmas something other than Christmas.

mcnorman said...

Ahhh, you have stated it so perfectly. Wonderful post.

houndstooth said...

I agree with you whole heartedly! I also was thinking this weekend that I wish Christmas was more like our Thanksgiving, where the most important thing is being with family and loved ones, not about commercialism and political correctness. I would never dream of asking someone to change their Kwanzaa or Chanukah. Even the thought of such a thing would have people up in arms, and yet Christmas is fair game.

noteither said...

Christmas is really a very special part of the year! Celebrating it shows that Christians though continents apart are not different from one another at all :) Great post!

Marcos Vinicius Gomes said...

Oh, Jo!
Let's commemorate Christmas together! Without prejudices...
I liked you used a multicultural perspective to explain your view-pont of Christmas and other celebrations.

Carlos Gesmundo said...

Ditto. As Christians respect other cultures' traditions, let other cultures respect Christian traditions. Happy Advent!

Alicia said...

Well I was going to say "Ditto" but Carlos beat me to it :0)

So let me say, "Hear, hear!" meaning of course: Hear, all ye good people, hear what this brilliant and eloquent speaker has to say!" ...

Thank you, lovely post!

lovelyprism said...

Pass the rum, keep the eggnog :-)
Merry Christmas!

Firefly said...

Every year it's so busy that I struggle to get into the CHRISTMAS (I agree, not holiday) spirit. This year I want that to change. I started listening to Christmas music about two weeks ago already and is well on my way to thoroughly enjoy Christmas this year.

C Hummel Kornell a/k/a C Hummel Wilson said...


Thanks for saying this. Christmas is Christmas. It matters not where you are or who you are for that matter, everyone should respect everyone else's beliefs and traditions. The World would be so boring if everyone believed the same way or acted and lived the same way. I am a Christian, I believe in Christ and I cherish Christmas. I have friends of varying faiths and beliefs and that does not make them less of a friend to me. I honor them and their beliefs and I never try to change them. To me, holidays are Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day etc. but Christmas is Christmas.

Love your new logo painting. The colors add some flair to your blog. Have a great day!

Land of shimp said...

The thing that always strikes me about anything that includes a request to remove all religious phrasing, or symbols is, really, are we so fragile that we can no longer tolerate hearing a word, seeing a manger, or having evidence of a belief that we do not share? I'm not talking about the workings of government, I'm talking about strolling down the street and seeing a manger scene on my neighbor's lawn.

As it happens, I was raised in the Episcopal church, and grew up celebrating Christmas but throughout my life I've known people of other religions, pagans, and atheists. I've been to Passover dinners, and gone to a Mosque, and a Synagogue for a variety of things -- how can you be offended by something simply because you don't share the belief?

Also, December 25th simply is Christmas. The push to say "Seasons Greetings!" instead of wishing someone a Merry Christmas on December 25th has always baffled me. I'm not a practicing anything these days, but the reality of the matter is that the world pauses in a nearly global recognition of a day that is actually a religious one. It's incredibly intolerant to say, "You may no longer call your religious holiday by name, because I don't share your belief."

If the world adopted Yom Kippur as a nearly international holiday, what would give us the right to say, "Sorry, that stuff about it being your day of Absolution? Yeah, don't talk about that."

By treating phrasing as being somehow threatening we are building a belief in our tremendous delicacy and putting a great deal of emphasis on our differences, while telling ourselves we trying to be tolerant of them.

It is important, in the U.S., to separate church and state, but in the course of social interaction if someone says something with which we do not agree, as happens, we somehow withstand it.

But if we want to eradicate the mention of Christmas, or any symbolism attached to Christmas, we need to pick a different darned day to observe, not merely nationally, but internationally.

People are diverse. By disallowing any mentions or evidence of that diversity, I believe we are moving in the wrong direction. I felt the same way when France tried to make illegal the wearing of a head scarf by Muslim women within France.

Religion has an iffy history in terms of what it has been used to do. It has been the root cause of many a war. I understand the fear of the proliferation of any kind of religious imagery.

Removing from our sight and hearing that with which we do not agree, simply because it centers on religious beliefs seems a slippery slope to me. What about political views? Hey, I don't agree with Conservatives, should they no longer be allowed to express their views within my hearing?

It just seems as we try to become more inclusive, trying to make sure that no one ever feels excluded, we have become to embrace practices that are actually intolerant.

The kicker is that religious intolerance has led to many a violent war.

Perhaps the best way to be tolerant of each other is to embrace, "You do your thing, I'll do mine. If I hear something with which I don't agree, I'll feel free to mention that."

We are so afraid of any evidence of difference. I can't take that as a sign of something good. Accepting difference is progress...but I feel movements that seek to eradicate mentions of any belief system we do not share is not progress, and frankly, it gives our differences even more power because we are allowing those differences to define too much.

Land of shimp said...

Day of Atonement, by the way, not Absolution. Oy.

Russell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Russell said...

Heh!! I have to start over! Story of my life...

I was trying to say "what does this have to do with Tiger Woods?" I mean EVERYBODY is talking about Tiger, Tiger, Tiger, Tiger, Tiger!!

Apparently Tiger came home very late one night and wished his wife Happy Holidays and she started scratching his face and pounding a golf club against his car!!

See??? I bet Tiger never does that again!!! Heh!

Carla said...

Beautifully put, Jo!

And Russell...You CRACK ME UP! :-)

Carl said...

Wonderful post Jo. I agree I accept others traditions so let me enjoy Christmas... I promise not to push Christmas off on anyone who doesn't want it.

You made me laugh. I can't think of a Christmas Pageant with conjuring up the scene from John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany". I am giggling now just thinking of it. Thanks for making me smile.


Owen said...

Will be right over then for some rum and eggnog ! And I'm betting that if Lynne or the Saj found out about your offer, they'd be right over here too... in fact, probably half the blogosphere would be here... better not tell anyone !

John said...

Such a great post; love it! (Early) Merry Christmas, Jo! I'm sure I'll be wishing you a Merry Christmas again soon!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I agree that everything has become so ridiculously politically correct that meaning is lost.

Christmas is not a vague, nondescript, anonymous holiday. It has a name and a meaning and many beautiful traditions which should not be compromised. We are NOT all alike, and that is what makes the world interesting and flavorsome. Tolerance of our differences does not mean squeezing everyone into the same mold because how could we possibly learn anything if everyone on earth was exactly alike?

Have a delight-filled Christmas season, Jo!

Mia said...

If Christmas is you favourite festival then call it Christmas. Say Happy Christmas to whoever you want. You're not offending those of us who don't celebrate it. Only a scrooge is offended by somebody else's happiness.

If you live in a predominantly Christian country then Christmas is far more important to most people than Kwanzaa or Hanukkah. Kwanzaa is a fictional festival created in America. I don't know any Africans who celebrate it. Hanukkah is a minor festival. There are many Jewish days that are far more important.

Wishing me a Happy Hanukkah during your Christmas is like me wishing you a Happy Columbus Day during the Yamim Noraim. There's no harm in it but I doubt either of us will be offended if we don't.

ivan said...

Ah, like Lorrie Goldstein Editor of our Sunday Sun here in Toronto wrote, "C'mon now. Christmas is Christmas."

KathyB. said...

You know Jo, you are so right..we don't ask any other culture to homogenize their holidays and traditions...and to ridicule them labels anyone doing so as "intolerant" and "bigoted", yet Christians are open game for just about everyone with no end to the lack of tolerance from the main media especially. But ahhhh, we forgive, really!

A note here, 'holiday' means "holy day", so even our political correctness reminds us , without meaning to, that it is a religious remembrance and celebration! Merry Christmas to you Jo!( and keep up your tradition of writing a Christmas essay)

the walking man said...

Like all traditions I'll as I said last year and the year before I'll take a pass on the whole shebang and the stress filled nonsense people put on themselves.

Jo said...

Thank you, my wonderful blogging friends, for all your great comments -- as usual. :-)

I have been working on a painting lately, and have not had the chance to reply to each of you individually. I will be over to visit you today.


Paula Slade said...

Enjoy the spirit of the season Jo, and by all means celebrate CHRISTMAS!
(Now, when will you be serving the egg nog? He-hee!) - The picture of the egg nog looked so-o-o-o good!

The Promiscuous Reader said...

I'm sorry, Jo, but it seems to me that you have completely misunderstood what has been going on. So have most of the other commenters. That could just mean that I've misunderstood what is going on, but I don't think so in this case.

Or maybe you're just talking about Canada. Down here in the US, Christmas is still Christmas. Christians still celebrate Christmas. If you go to the most "politically correct" (and it saddens me to hear you use that despicable Newspeak term) liberal Episcopalian church, it will be celebrating Christmas on December 25, not "the holidays." The Episcopalian Church nearest my apartment, which caters to a liberal university congregational pool, even has signs up outside insisting that it's Jesus' birthday, dammit, not Santa's!

What is at stake is manners. I am not offended when someone says "Merry Christmas" to me, though I'm an atheist. I know very well that I'm in a minority, and I take the thought behind the wish. I even observe Christmas, to some extent, as a cultural holiday. I buy gifts for my nearest and dearest, I take advantage of what everyone else is doing to send messages to friends I haven't kept in touch with as well as I should (usually e-mail these days, I'm too cheap and lazy to buy and mail cards). I sleep late on December 25, make myself cream of tomato soup, read a Jane Austen novel -- that's what you're supposed to do on that day, isn't it?

To other people, however, unless I know that they are Christians, I wish "Happy Holidays." They may not be Christians, after all. There are a lot of Jews in this college town; some observe Hanukkah, others don't. Some African-Americans observe Kwanzaa. Maybe some neopagans observe the Solstice, I don't know. It would not be an atrocity, but it would be rude to assume that they are all Christians. Since a number of holidays cluster together at this time of year, why not recognize them all and say "Happy Holidays"? It doesn't mean, as susie, wrote, changing your own celebration because someone disagree with it: you can still celebrate as you please. There's something familiar in that careful misunderstanding.

What is quite rude, it seems to me, is to throw a hissyfit because someone wished you "Happy Holidays" out of generosity and a wish not to offend, but still with goodwill. If I can recognize the goodwill, however misdirected, behind a "Merry Christmas", then the rest of you folks can recognize the goodwill and the reasoning behind "Happy Holidays." The season and the 25th of December do not belong to you.

Why not be polite to people who aren't Christians and for whom December 25 is another holiday or just another day? On the basis of Jo's post, I must consider the possibility that far from goodwill, behind a "Merry Christmas" may lurk a wish to deny my very existence as a non-Christian -- no matter what a thinks or believes or celebrates, they are going to be included in your Christian country willy-nilly. Sort of like the Christians who tell non-Christians they like that their values are really Christian deep down, and someday they'll realize it and come to Jesus. I tell such people that, funny, I think their values are really atheistic, and someday they'll realize it and embrace atheism. Odd ... they don't usually see the kindness and goodwill that I harbor toward them when I say that.