This time of year is a holy multi-cultural celebration buffet.
December is abundant with customs, tradition and beliefs reflecting well over a dozen religiously diverse observances.
So why is it that every year, we hear the same contrasting opposition that we should be saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”? Someone even called it “a War on Christmas!”
I once experienced a person adamantly declaring that it had nothing to do with religion, “Christmas is a Canadian thing!” They said it with a bite in their words. Someone else calmly pointed out that the word Christ is in the world Christmas and it very much is a religion holiday.
What if folks were Jewish, Jehovah, Muslim or even atheist? Can we not wish other people well with greetings of having a happy holiday however they celebrate or don’t celebrate?
Census Canada reports that our beautiful country hosts a population with over 200 different ethnic backgrounds. Christianity is still the religion of the majority. However, approximately one quarter of the country is not associated with any religion at all. After Christianity, Islam religion is celebrated next on the list of percentage of Canadian citizens.
Islamic religion is the world’s second-largest religion and the fastest-growing major religion in the world. The population known as Muslim celebrates Mawlid el-Nabi. This holiday celebrates the birthday of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. It is fixed as the 12th day of the month of Rabi I in the Islamic calendar. Mawlid means birthday of a holy figure and al-Nabi means prophet. Homes and mosques may be decorated, while sweets and candy are handed out to children. Songs are sung and poems are read. Muhammad was born in the year 570 in the town of Mecca before becoming an orphan at an early age. While meditating in a cave he was visited by the Archangel Gabriel. His preaching of these revelations gained him thousands of followers and would later form the basis of the Qur’an.
Over six million North Americans celebrate Judaism and Canada’s Jewish population may seem small, but is actually the fourth largest Jewish community in the world. Judaism is an incredibly ancient religion founded some three thousand years before Christ and based around the lessons contained within the biblical Old Testament. Hanukkah is the Jewish eight-day, wintertime “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers, traditional foods and well wishes of “Happy Hanukkah!” The Hebrew word Hanukkah means dedication.
There are about half a million Hindus in Canada, mostly Indian immigrants, who practice a largely unorganized but incredibly complicated, millennia-old religion based on ancient stories of morality and virtue. Hindus have a religious December holiday called Pancha Ganapati. The celebration begins Dec. 21 and includes outings, home decorations, lights, feasts and gift giving.
The fundamental beliefs of Sikhism include faith and meditation on the name of the creator, unity of all humankind, engaging in selfless service, striving for social justice for the benefit and prosperity of all, and honest conduct and livelihood. They celebrate their Guru this time of year with singing, reading of the sacred scripture, putting up Khalsa lights and the sharing of sweets. There isn’t too much emphasis on the gift-giving that’s typical of Christmas, normally. According to Canada census there are almost a half a million Canadians that celebrate this religion.
Each December, Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day and recall that Siddhartha Gautama vowed to sit under a tree in what is now Bodhgaya, India, and not to rise until he was enlightened. They celebrate a noble path of moral virtue, meditation, insight and wisdom. The title Buddha means “awakened one.”
Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration honouring African-American heritage, observed from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, culminating in a feast, candle lighting and gift-giving. Kwanzaa honours Nguzo Saba and the seven core principles of unity, self-determination, responsibility, cooperation, purpose, creativity and faith.
Many followers of Native American spirituality do not regard their spiritual beliefs and practices as a “religion” in the way in which many religions do. Their beliefs and practices form an integral and seamless part of their very being, however many also have a religious affiliation and celebrate Christmas. Generosity in Native cultures is a sign of a giving heart, with spiritual as well as social value. So, the concept of holiday giving easily coincides with traditional First Nation beliefs.
These are just some of the varied celebrations this time of year and while many do not recognize Christmas as a religious tradition, many do celebrate it, treating the holiday as a secular festival. Just look at these December holiday festivities listed. They are focused on celebrating the goodness of their belief systems by honouring tradition with family and friends and food and decorations. (Notice the parallels?)
I believe that the school systems should have Christmas trees and sing carols. I also believe they should have a Jewish Menorah and learn the traditions of all people’s celebrations and traditions.
Being expected to say to all people, the standard greeting for a specific Christian holiday – “Merry Christmas” – so not to offend some Christians seems slightly unreasonable to me. As a person that celebrates spirituality over religion, I think people should have the right to believe (or not believe) anything they’d like and not force that belief on others.
So when I say “Happy Holidays” to people, I certainly mean no disrespect to the majority of us that celebrate Christmas. In fact, if I know someone celebrates the Christian holiday, I do say “Merry Christmas.” These are pleasantries. These are kind offerings of well wishes. There is no intended insult. We live in a diverse country with hundreds of cultures and religions and beliefs. Isn’t the real message here a message of happiness that is inclusive and kind for all people?
So, celebrate your life, your adopted beliefs and holiday traditions and I hope you will be enveloped with kindness, compassion, love and blessings now and all year round.