The winter scene, as it was described to me, would have been worthy of a seasonal greeting card or the ending to a heartwarming holiday movie.
In the living room of their new home in Canada, members of a refugee family were sitting around their decorated tree, enjoying their first Christmas season in a new, welcoming place.
The only thing that could have improved on that scene would have been if outside the snow had been gently falling.
The image was that of a perfect Christmas. Too perfect.
When I heard this description, I was saddened and disappointed.
While the members of this family were free to celebrate Christmas in Canada, I wondered if they also felt free to not celebrate it.Did they sense a pressure to set up the tree and observe this holiday in order to fit in to this country?
As I thought about this too-perfect winter scene, I remembered a comment I have heard on more than one occasion, in reference to newcomers to Canada: “When you come here, you follow our customs and our religion.”
In other words, those arriving in Canada were expected to adopt the customs of the dominant culture in this country.
It’s quite a condescending comment, and I hope it reflects the opinion of a fringe and not the majority of Canadians.
This country is a mosaic of beautiful colours and textures. It is not a massive melting pot.
Over the years, Canada has welcomed refugees from many parts of the world. These have included people from Syria, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, eastern Europe and other places. Since 1980, more than one million refugees have made a home in Canada. Many others have come as immigrants and as asylum seekers.
Most are from places where religious traditions and cultural celebrations are quite different from common practices in Canada.
The family described to me had arrived from a country where few people observe Christmas and those who choose to mark the day do not give it the same prominence as we do in Canada.
Part of the welcome we offer is the freedom to follow one’s own traditions, customs and beliefs.
Since the 1960s, multiculturalism has been seen as a Canadian value, and legislation about multiculturalism has been in place since the 1970s and 1980s.In addition, we do not have a national religion in this country.
Any of us, whether we have been in this country for generations or whether we have arrived recently, are free to live as we choose.
In Canada, we can choose to celebrate any number of holidays during the festive season.These include but are not limited to Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, Eid-al-Adha, Festivus, Winter Solstice and more.
Some will have a strongly religious focus on their seasonal celebrations, while others will emphasize time spent with family, gift-giving or acts of charity and generosity.
And some, for any number of reasons, will pass on any or all of these festivities.
I hope the members of this family of newcomers were supported to freely practice whatever version of the winter holidays they wanted when the set up their tree.
Some will love and embrace Christmas celebrations.
And I hope those who see seasonal decorations and celebrations other than their own will take a moment to appreciate that we live in a country where we are all welcome to enjoy the festive season – and any other time of year – as we see fit.
John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.
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