JOHN O'FEE - It's OK to call it Christmas

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.

- Calvin Coolidge

Political correctness is an interesting concept that allows people to dance around the words they really want to use. The most recent example in the news was the switch back to the use of "Christmas Break" by the Chilliwack school district versus the term "Winter Break" used by most school districts in B.C., including our own.

Given that Winter doesn't officially start until a few days after the kids are set loose, it seems a bit early in the season to be having a break from it. In some ways that underscores the linguistic backflips we sometimes make to avoid offending anyone. Yet in our quest for correctness we lose touch with cultural icons and some of the things that underscore who we all are as Canadians. The fact is that English is rife with linguistic references to religion. Saying "Happy Holidays" may seem generic but it is merely a contraction of "Happy Holy Days."

What's ironic about this exercise in word smithing is that many of the cultures we seek not to offend do a pretty good job of celebrating Christmas themselves. A number of years ago I was in Hong Kong a few weeks before Christmas. While Christians are a tiny minority there, Christmas decorations abounded and "Merry Christmas" was prominently displayed on signs and light displays. The same is true in (mostly) Buddhist Japan. Obviously their faith is somehow strong enough to withstand the trappings of the Christmas season.

Many people I know who are not Christian celebrate the season just the same. Likewise, I have attended some great events celebrated by other faiths and cultures where I see many other people there who are not generally associated with the event's religious or cultural significance. One doesn't see "Alternate Marking of Year End" used to describe Chinese New Year because that would be silly. So is changing the name of Christmas.

Of course, there will be the perennially offended on both sides of this issue. Some with the use of "Christmas" because of its religious undertones and others with the use of terms like "Festive Season" because it excludes references to Christ.

I think they are both missing the point. The fact is that we have a traditional holiday on Dec. 25 and we call it Christmas. It stems from the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus and it is a shortened version of "Christ's Mass." Many families, including my own, celebrate both the religious and the secular aspects of this Christian feast day. Some do not.

I see nothing wrong with the use of the term Christmas, Diwali, Ramadan or Hanukkah, etc. They are all religious events and they all have a name. My Jewish and Muslim friends wish me a Merry Christmas and they mean it sincerely. It neither makes them Christian nor offended. Likewise, wishing others a happy Vaisakhi or Bodhi (Enlightenment) Day does not make me Sikh or Buddhist any more than wishing them happy birthday makes me their age.

Of course, Christmas comes with many secular traditions including, Christmas trees, light displays, and other icons not generally associated with Christianity. Some, like Santa Claus, are distantly related to a Christian tradition (Saint Nicholas). However, I doubt you will find any reference to glowing nosed flying reindeer in the bible.

Even the exchanging of gifts has lost some religious focus. The biblical account of the three wise men giving the infant Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh was not about the gifts themselves. Rather, it is an allegory for the future role of this infant child to Christianity. Gold is a gift for a king, frankincense for a priest and myrrh for a prophet. "Christ" means anointed and the gifts were to represent Him being triply anointed as a king, priest and prophet. How that symbolism became me having to buy my kids a new video game is something I'm not exactly sure about.

My point is that Christmas has become as much of a cultural tradition as it has a religious one. A majority of Canadians don't celebrate Christ's Mass by attending a religious service. While this holy day stems from the Christian faith, the underlying themes of charity, peace, fellowship, family gathering and goodwill are both universal and worth revisiting at least once a year.

So, in that spirit and on behalf of myself and my family I wish all of you, regardless of your religion or beliefs, a very Merry Christmas.

jofee@kamloops.ca

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