Seasonal Post Mortem

Toronto Star
Jan 12, 2003

In our family, the best part of a holiday, event or party is the post mortem known fondly as P.M. It’s considered fair play to indulge in constructive criticism and comment without personalizing. This is what I’m setting out to do. We are past the sensitive time of multi-faith holidays and traditions starting from Diwali to New years, so it seems like a perfect time to put some thoughts into perspective for this year.

Last month, it all started with a kafuffle at City Hall about changing the name of the Christmas tree to Holiday tree. This spouted many columns saying much of what I’ve been saying since I came to Canada – Let’s respect everyone’s traditions, without taking Christmas away from Christians. Following this more recently was the mosque kafuffle, where it was said that for Muslims, wishing Merry Christmas is a sin. Another ignorant and divisive missive.

Somewhere between these two extremes, an important message has been lost. I don’t believe it’s about naming the tree or wishing people Merry Christmas. There is a much larger picture that affects all of us as we try to live in harmony. I wanted to make this point when everything is quiet so people can focus once again! All that eggnog fuddles the mind.

While I’ve never had a problem in wishing people Merry Christmas, joining in with the celebrations and even organizing my office Christmas party, I have a small suggestion to make and I hope it will be taken in the spirit that it is given. My circle of friends includes people of Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Baha’i, Zoroastrian and Sikh faiths. So I wish them according to their particular festival or tradition. Co-incidentally, many of the celebrations fall during December or thereabouts which makes it a wonderful time to join in the season of joy and goodwill, and decorate lights on the house, without being labeled a heretic.

But I specifically refrain from offering a generic “Happy Holiday” greeting because I find it impersonal and unfriendly. I know that despite the fact that some of the celebrations fall around Christmas time, my Hindu or Sikh friends wouldn’t expect me to wish them Merry Christmas. Because they are my friends, I take the time to find out what their celebration is called, find the date on my multicultural calendar and wish them for their celebration.

Happy Diwali or Greetings for Hanukkah as the case may be. This makes them feel special and I know they appreciate the thought and effort. Similarly, when it comes to my festival, close friends ask “what do you celebrate?” and I tell them “Eid”. They ask how to wish me and I tell them “Eid Mubarak” which means “Joyous Blessings”. People are generally thrilled to be educated, but often forget to use the greeting when required. (Incidentally some of the columns referred to Muslims celebrating Ramadan, which is incorrect. We observe Ramadan but celebrate Eid at the end of Ramadan – just some trivia for the next time!)

So we come back to Christmas which is the major festival. I give my Christian friends, colleagues, and neighbors small gifts for Christmas to show our respect for their celebration. The response however is troubling. At a time when there is so much else to do, there is a rush to ‘return’ the gift and I find quickly wrapped gifts on my desk with Happy Holiday cards. While I’m not offended and truly appreciate the effort, I feel the larger message has been lost in the commercial rush of Christmas. It’s about giving and not receiving – it’s your festival so I want to give you a token of appreciation at this time of the year with no expectation of a return. If you really care and want to show it, then take out time to give me the same gift at Eid or just take a moment to wish me. I’ll appreciate it so much more. So will your other colleagues and friends who celebrate all those other festivals I mentioned earlier, and many more.

Here we’re talking about the true face of the multicultural, multi-faith mosaic we live in called Canada. Where it’s not about taking away Christmas or about not wishing people Merry Christmas – but being aware of those who celebrate other festivals and sharing your goodwill with them. This way, there will be less angst over what to call the Christmas tree and I trust everyone will be at ease with the majority celebrating Christmas with all the fanfare they want.

A bit of enthusiastic inclusiveness is all that is asked for. Happy New year.