Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas in Canada

This is my first Christmas since moving back to Canada from the United States, although for most of the six years I lived in the US we still came back to Canada for Christmas. Going back and forth between the two countries, I can easily see the differences.

As I wrote a couple of years ago, one big difference in the United States is that it seems people are afraid to wish each other a "Merry Christmas" out of fear of offending those who may not celebrate Christmas. So, they say "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings" or other holiday-neutral sorts of things. That is certainly not a concern in Canada: according to a recent poll, fully 94% of Canadians celebrate Christmas, and so people here generally say "Merry Christmas" with impunity.

Perhaps the biggest difference is the number of non-Christians in Canada who have adopted some form of family Christmas traditions. Through all this, Christmas in Canada has evolved from a celebration of Christ's birthday into a religion-neutral family holiday that everyone seems to like. People put up lights and decorations on their houses, put up Christmas trees, exchange gifts, wish each other Merry Christmas, have Christmas parties, and don't worry about offending each other.

On our own block and in our own neighborhood we see this: an Indian Hindu family putting up brilliant lights on their house, a Chinese family coming over to exchange gifts, hijab-clad Muslim women rushing to finish buying last minute Christmas gifts at the mall, etc.

Some may argue that the religious meaning behind Christmas has become distorted, but the benefit is that the holiday has been disseminated to a broader audience. Given that more Canadians celebrate Christmas than celebrate Canada Day (our national holiday), Christmas is truly a national holiday for us, and one that unites us as Canadians.

For all of you, in Canada our outside, Merry Christmas!