Blinkered by the 'Christian' in Christmas?

A few years ago, while working on an article, I spent a day with a group of teachers. Somehow - we may have been discussing the present continuous tense - the sentence "Christmas is coming" ended up on a blackboard. From there, one of the teachers asserted that using this sentence in a classroom would be "culturally insensitive."

Why? I asked, pointing out that we hadn't written, "Christmas is coming and your holidays pale by comparison!"

Now that would be culturally insensitive, I said.

No one laughed.

I thought about this when, a couple of years ago, the mayor of Toronto referred to the towering, decorated pine in the city center as Toronto's "Holiday Tree" - to much derision.

I thought about it again when I read this month that some Macy's stores are removing their traditional "Merry Christmas" signs and replacing them with supposedly more inclusive greetings such as "Happy Holidays."

The goal is noble, if not the methods. The idea that there is something exclusive about saying "Merry Christmas," is, of course, nonsense. I am an atheist, and it doesn't make me feel excluded. It would be exclusive to say "Merry Christmas, unless you're not a Christian, in which case you're going to suffer for eternity." I would definitely feel excluded - and scared - if people said that.

The reason we have a Dec. 25 holiday is because of Christmas. It is not because of Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Eid (when the latter falls close to Christmas).

My Jewish sister-in-law finds it amusing that Hanukkah, a relatively small Jewish holiday, is better known to Christians than the more significant Passover and Yom Kippur, largely due to our quest for inclusivity. (My sister-in-law, by the way, loves Christmas carols, and being from Quebec, the traditional Reveillon, or Christmas Eve, celebrations).

We celebrate Christmas because modern North America has Christian foundations, regardless of the changing demographics.

Denying history is condescending to non-Christians and assumes a fragility and a lack of understanding on their part that ought to make them so mad they eat a whole figgy pudding in protest.

I lived in Turkey a few years ago, and was never bothered - nor did I feel my heritage disrespected - when my students wished me a happy Kurban Bayrami and invited me to join their families for the traditional meal.

Kurban Bayrami is a four-day festival when sheep are sacrificed in memory of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son. The meat is shared with family and friends, and is also distributed to the poor. This could have bothered me, a vegetarian. It didn't. I simply bowed out of witnessing the slaughter and eating the meat. I had a great time with the people kind enough to include me. And at Christmas, my students serenaded me with a rousing rendition of "Jingle Bells."

In Japan, where I taught business English to auto-industry executives, Christmas is a surprisingly big deal. Dec. 25 is not a holiday in Japan - though Dec. 23, the emperor's birthday, is, which qualifies it to fall under the umbrella of "Season's Greetings."

Only 2 percent of the Japanese population is Christian, but a number of my students invited me to special Christmas dinners where whole turkeys were delivered - stuffed and cooked - right to their doors.

Many Japanese serve a "Christmas cake," made of spongecake, whipped cream, and strawberries. Japanese stores, streets, and frequently homes, are decorated. Santa and Christmas lights are ubiquitous. Where I live, it is now dark before 5 p.m. It is cold and getting colder. I love Christmas. I love the lights, the sentiment, and the debauched excess of our appetite for food and gifts.

You don't need to be a believer to enjoy it. But there is no reason believers shouldn't feel free to call it Christmas.

Rarely - mercifully - someone will reply to my "Merry Christmas" with an arch "I don't celebrate Christmas." To which I am occasionally tempted to reply, "You know, a simple 'thanks, you too,' would suffice."

But that wouldn't be very festive.

Rondi Adamson is a Canadian writer.

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