As families string lights and stores display Christmas trees, it truly is beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
But for those of non-Christian faith, what feelings are attached to the annual onslaught of events, music and decorations that honour the Christian holiday?
“I would say that most Jewish Canadians are, if anything, accustomed to beautiful Christmas decorations in a public setting,” said Steve McDonald, associate director of communications for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which represents the organized Jewish community in Canada. “I’ve certainly never heard of any requests for them to be removed from the Jewish community.”
Though the subject is a controversial one for some, McDonald said he doesn’t think Jewish Canadians see it that way.
“I think most Jews are respectful of the fact that Christmas does carry an important religious meaning for practising Christians across the country, and, beyond that, I think that Christmas speaks to universal values that people of all faiths can connect with — a sense of generosity, goodwill, joy and peace,” he said. “It’s just a time for family and reflection. I think everyone appreciates the beautiful aspects of Christmas.”
Vinay Singh is a practising Hindu who is the vice-president of the India-Canadian Association of Kingston. He is also an associate professor at Queen’s University in the department of biomedical and molecular science.
Although he moved to Canada from India just a decade ago, Christmas is something he’s known all his life.
“I can very strongly say that, from my growing up and my understanding, there is no objections or no issues with celebrations or putting up decorations in public places,” Singh said, noting that there are provinces in India that are predominantly Christian.
Singh said both he and his wife learned about Christmas in school when they were in India. The couple attended two different school systems, neither of which were Catholic, and students were encouraged to bring in sweets and gifts to exchange at this time of year.
“In fact, in our school boards, you have stories about Christmas or stories about Santa,” he said.
Having lived as a practising Buddhist for the past decade, Roberta Lamb said she takes no issue with decorations from other faiths in public areas — especially if those decorations light up the cold, dark winter nights of Canada.
“To me, it’s about what makes people happy, and if people enjoy decorations on the streets, if they enjoy a lit-up Christmas tree by the skating rink in the square, that’s just fine,” Lamb said.
She also noted she doesn’t think it’s necessary to prohibit Christmas decorations in these areas.
“I don’t think that it would serve any benefit to society to say we’re not going to have any decorations in public spaces,” she said.
For Imam Sikander Hashmi, Christmas decorations are not something he, as a Muslim, finds offensive at all, he said.
“Living in a pluralistic, multicultural society, I think we should all expect that each group and members of different faith and cultural communities will want to celebrate their holidays … and decorate and do things like that,” said Hashmi. For him, the only stipulation would be that everyone have the opportunity to decorate and celebrate during their own holidays.
“We need to be practical and we need to appreciate the fact that people are different,” he said. “That needs to be celebrated in different ways, and one of those is to put up decorations.”
Hashmi said it doesn’t bother him that public places decorate for Christmas but not for other holidays. However, he said if a public building does decorate at Christmas time, that building should be open to allowing those of other faiths decorate during other holiday seasons.
“Say there are Muslims working there, or people of other cultures,” Hashmi said. “If they want to put something up, I think they should have the opportunity to do that.”
Though it may be obvious that Archdeacon Wayne Varley supports the use of Christmas decorations in public space, his reasoning for why this practice shouldn’t be prohibited sheds light on embracing the similarities and differences of the country’s numerous faiths.
“I find the prohibition to be rather pointless because whether folks are observing Christmas or not, there is a time of cultural relevance at this time of year, and it’s therefore reasonable to expect that there will be decorations, some attractive, and others less so, perhaps,” he said with a laugh.
Varley, who serves as the diocesan executive officer for the Anglican Diocese of Ontario, said neither he nor the Anglican church have any problem with other religions celebrating their holidays publicly.
“From the church perspective, we view Christmas within the context of the time being a significant religious period for us in the birth of Christ … but if it’s held within a healthy, spiritual context, we would have no problem with decorations at all.”