Don’t deny my right to celebrate Christmas

TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – ‘Diversity is about sharing. So I don’t mind if you share your Christmas with me.’
Dec. 21, 2016.   By PRIYA RAMSINGH

I like giving Christmas cards to my neighbours. I don’t check to see if they are Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Greek Orthodox or atheists, for that matter. I just get swept away in the joy of giving at the end of December. It’s a ritual that’s been with me since I was born.

Years ago, when my residence was a townhouse with a front yard, I found myself falling into the trance of the holidays once the carols dominated the radio waves at the start of December. Inspiration would urge me to create and soon I had a full scene with animated reindeer and Santa’s sleigh filled with paper coloured boxes. In the background, my Christmas tree’s lights blinked through the bay window.

One day, five years after my display had morphed bigger and bigger, I found my next door neighbour at my front door, sheepish-faced and a box of cookie wafers in her hand.

“I was going to wrap them up,” she said, red faced. “But I wasn’t sure if you celebrated Christmas or not.” The words hung in the air and I blinked before finding my response.

“But. I gave you Christmas cards, and chocolates.”

She smiled sheepishly.

“And the reindeer, and the tree in the window?” I stammered.

“Yes, I know.” She held out the box of wafers, unwrapped and without a card. I reached out and took them, thanking her.

As I shut the door, I felt the slap of offence. So this is what it’s come to, I thought. Suddenly, I was standing on the outside again, lumped into a category of someone who didn’t celebrate the Canadian national holiday. Even though I did, in a secular fashion.

I am not Christian. But I am a Canadian, born in Trinidad, an island in the Caribbean where the cultural mosaic is a way of life. My parents, who are Hindus, celebrated the day designated as the birth of Jesus Christ with carols, family dinners and stockings, as did their parents. No doubt, a tradition brought over by the British and continued as part of the island’s Commonwealth status.

In turn, when the island observes Diwali, Muslims, Christians and Jews call out the greeting to their neighbours, and are invited for dinner by their Hindu friends. Because it’s a national holiday and because custom called for the Hindu festival to be shared with non-Hindus in an endeavour of unity.

My mother cooks fish on Good Friday, because that’s the Trinidadian tradition.

We make a special milk dessert on Eid, because, that’s what her family’s Muslim neighbours shared when she was growing up.

“It’s an excuse to party,” say my friends as they jab me jokingly, calling out the country’s reputation for socializing.

Perhaps they have a point. When my friend who I’ve known since grade 3, invites me to her Hanukah open house, I am honoured to stand among the dozens of non-Jews to watch the lighting of the last light on the menorah. Because for me, it’s an inherent excuse to share.

So as we move to a more culturally diverse society, the controversial greeting, Merry Christmas is now replaced with Happy Holidays. Because for many Canadians, December brings anticipation of Hannukah and Kwanza along with Christmas. And for some, the holidays simply mean days off where they spend time with their family without a religious celebration. Gifts in shiny red paper are not forced upon them, or are they obligated to purchase a tree to place inside their home.

But every year, the new greeting is tainted with uncertainty and in some cases, resentment. Are we simply trying to cover all of the celebrations in one sweep or are we trying to ignore the old adage, Merry Christmas?

For me, it’s become uncomfortable. And I suppose my former neighbour felt the same when she gifted me with the unwrapped wafers. Sadly, she didn’t want to force her tradition upon me.

I wish I had told her that I didn’t mind. I may not be Christian, but I am Canadian. And for me, the cultural sensitivity to which we’ve all been trying so hard to adhere has become overly sensitive. Diversity is about sharing. So I don’t mind if you share your Christmas with me.

Priya Ramsingh is the principal of Arka Communications, a communications consulting company. www.arkacomm.ca

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