Go ahead and say it: Merry Christmas
December, 24, 2008
The debate over Quebec's Christmas tree lasted less than a day.
The National Assembly tradition is that a tree is decorated outside the building, a press release is issued, and at the appointed time the premier and others come out, TV cameras roll, a switch is thrown, the tree shines out in the December gloom, the premier wishes everyone a joyeux Nol, and everybody troops back inside.
This year the press release for this event went out as usual but then was modified, the “sapin de Nol” becoming a “grand sapin des Ftes,” 2,000 years of Christmas tradition being banished in a fit of over-zealous accommodation, no doubt on the part of some junior official. (The word “sapin” means “Fir tree”.)
Premier Jean Charest reversed this with little time wasted. “We call this a Christmas tree,” Charest said. “That's very clear in my mind and always has been.”
And so it should be. Canadian society, including Quebec's part of it, should be open and welcoming to all. But that does not mean that centuries of tradition must be wiped away, like yesterday's lesson on a blackboard. Canada is the sum of the history of its people, and Christmas has earned its place as part of our cultural history. We couldn't say when it happened, exactly – perhaps when Coca-Cola more or less invented our image of Santa Claus – but Christmas today is a secular holiday. That means it can and should be shared by all.
To be sure, some of other faiths would prefer to be wished “happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas,” and at the individual level most people who use the C-word will be careful to choose the neutral greeting instead for Muslims, Jews and other friends.
Meanwhile, though, even many nominal Christians see the holiday as a secular one. For some, going to church is a once-a-year tradition rather than a weekly act of faith. For others Bing Crosby's version of O Holy Night is as spiritual as things get. Many others again are devout year-round Christians for whom the holiday has profound meaning.
It's all good. We're a diverse society, and these are matters for individuals and families to decide for themselves. But as a public institution, Christmas has long since earned its status as a secular event for all. Everyone knows how a holiday at this dark cold time even pre-dates Christianity. In our time, feasting, egg-nog, a day off work, giving to charity, and Boxing Day shopping – these are all, for better or worse, important elements of the day and the season. All are optional and none should be offensive. So, merry Christmas to all!