In honour of the season as they say, we hosted a holiday open house last weekend.
One guest said when leaving, "Is it still OK to say Merry Christmas to you?" obviously referring to the fact that multiculturalism in Canada as elsewhere in the world has meant giving folks more inclusive seasons greetings over the holidays rather than referencing the birth of Christ that Christians celebrate.
All cultures have symbolic, historical and religious holidays and those of us who belong to these traditions often find it hard to be tolerant of those from different traditions. We invest large doses of affect and emotion in our religious holidays and because we begin to participate in these celebrations with our families when we are very young, we invest the holidays with early memories of love — if we are raised in a loving family — or loneliness and alienation, if our childhoods were less happy ones.
When I was in my early twenties, I spent my first Christmas away from home. On Dec. 25, I was sitting under lemon trees drinking sangria in the south of Spain. You would think that such would be a great day, but I was sad and filled with guilt. I felt that I had abandoned my mother.
My dad had died just before Christmas when I was eight and she had — I am sure unintentionally — turned every Christmas into an annual mourning of my dead father. I felt like a truly bad daughter to have missed this annual and perpetual memorial and I was miserable as a consequence. I never did that again and celebrated each following Christmas with combinations and permutations of relatives until family relations changed as folks like my mom died and other relationships evolved and morphed.
Now the holiday is truly mine or I should say the exclusive domain of my husband and me. Families and grandchildren are scattered in various places and celebrate in their own homes. My brother tried to gather some of us together in Pennsylvania this year, but we recognized that summer was more feasible.
This Christmas I will wake up with my husband, my partner of 33 years, and we will celebrate our blessings in our now own quiet way. We watch old movies, I get him to play some board games that he will only indulge me in playing once a year and we will make our dinner and toast each other with a glass (or two) of champagne. We will wonder about our luck and our blessings and the fact that after 33 years we are still not only husband and wife but each other’s very best friend. The kids are OK and so are the grandkids. World peace is still sadly out of reach. As well, we know that what we have is precious and precarious. There but for fortune we could have very different and difficult lives.
We look at much of the world as we approach this major Canadian holiday —secular for some, religious for others — and know how imperfect we are as human beings and how much harder we need to try to be better people. We know also that we need to participate more fully, whatever that might mean, in making the world a more just and sustainable place in 2013.
One of the saddest elements of our various religious traditions around the world is the frequency with which our most holy and sacred celebrations seem to foster enmity rather than love or peace among peoples of the planet Earth. That is part of the human condition. But so too is hope and the will to do better.
I wish you all a peaceful and safe holiday season. Catch you in 2013.
» Deborah C. Poff, Ph.D., is president and vice-chancellor of Brandon University. She is also editor of the Journal of Business Ethics, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Academic Ethics. Her column appears monthly.