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I call it Christmas

Mary & Joseph fled into Egypt after the birth of Jesus, whose birthday we celebrate Dec. 25.
Mary & Joseph fled into Egypt after the birth of Jesus, whose birthday we celebrate Dec. 25.

A constituent recently asked me how I greet people at this time of year. Do I say “Merry Christmas”? Or offer a generic “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings.”

Admittedly, my first reaction was, “Is this really the most important issue?” But upon reflection, I realized the significance behind the question. What we name things matters. Names convey origins, history, story.

And the story behind Christmas is as relevant today as when it began more than 2000 years ago.

Christmas day celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Recall the circumstances: pregnant mother Mary, and husband Joseph forced from their home in Nazareth to return to Bethlehem for a census. Caesar Augustus wanted to count all his subjects to ensure everyone paid their taxes. (Some things never change!)

Mary had never been to Bethlehem; Joseph lived in Nazareth. They were strangers and immigrants to this new land, fleeing the violence of the road; homeless. They were at the mercy of the kindness and hospitality of others to open their hearts and offer refuge  – the root of the word refugee.

They found refuge in a stable. They made Bethlehem their temporary home.

The Three Wise Men brought gifts to Jesus. We continue the gift giving tradition at Christmas.
The Three Wise Men brought gifts to Jesus. We continue the gift giving tradition at Christmas.

Some years later, the family was forced to move again. This time, they were fleeing a murderously jealous Herod, King of Judea, who ordered the slaughter of all boys around the age of this Christ child. Like many others, Herod had heard this boy was special, destined to become a “great king.” Herod dispatched three Wise Men, followers of the stars, to find him. The Wise Men did indeed find Jesus, but instead of turning him over to Herod, they brought gifts to honour him, and protected his location and identity.

To escape Herod’s slaughter, the family fled to Egypt. After Herod’s death, they returned home to Nazareth to settle.

The story of Christmas is the story of refugees, and of those who offered them sanctuary and protection.

We celebrate Christmas by exchanging gifts, opening our homes to friends and loved ones, and giving to those in need. Charitable donations increase this time of year. Christmas Day is a national holiday, a time to be together with each other, with members of our community, to put work aside and  put each other first.

The story of Christmas speaks to us today in the plight of Syrian refugees forced from their homes as Mary and Joseph were, by violence in service of politics and ideology. Canadians will be asked to open our hearts and homes, just as the innkeeper at Bethlehem did, to offer sanctuary. We will be asked to give gifts, like the Wise Men did, of our time and resources to help these newcomers build a life in freedom.

We will rise to the occasion, as we have since our foundation as a country built by immigrants, many of whom were also fleeing persecution and violence in their places of birth.

We will offer all our citizens freedom to follow the religion, politics & lifestyles of their choosing, within the bounds of peaceful coexistence. New stories and traditions will blend with ours. But in each case, I will call the tradition what it is. Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Eid – not a generic Happy Holidays that sounds like we just decided we needed a break from the office.

If we drop the name of Christmas, or any other tradition, we lose the story and the meaning behind it. You don’t have to believe in the religious elements of the tradition to recognize this would diminish us all.

So in honour of what this holiday is about, and what it means for the crisis facing our world today, I offer you a sincere Merry Christmas.


Written by Marianne Meed Ward

A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made.

As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington.

The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful.

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  1. Great stuff Marianne. Love your historical synopsis, and the link to today’s realities. Blessings to you, Pete & the family –
    Rev. Dr. O. James.

  2. Thank you so much for your message of hope, in this troubled world, Saying Merry Christmas, for me. brings that feeling of love toward all mankind whether they be believers or non believers.

  3. I applaud Marianne for opening up the discussion. The Christmas story is a fundamental one of God reaching into human history to provide a way for His wayward creation to be reconciled to Himself, in the person & work of Jesus Christ. Characterizing it as a refugee story, just as the materialistic shopping binge that Christmas has become in North America, appears empty in this context. RJT is right in that the prohibition on wishing people “Merry Christmas” is the work of policy-happy HR departments within business & government who feel they their organizations need to be perceived as politically correct. I’m retired. Merry Christmas, everyone!

  4. I find myself on both sides of this one. The ‘Holiday Season’ is a time of a multiplicity of religious and secular celebrations, of which Christmas Day is undoubtedly the largest. Christmas, at least when I was growing up, also referred to the 12 days of Christmas – from the birth of Jesus until Epiphany on 6th January – which was why you didn’t put up your Christmas tree until Christmas Eve. Christmas began, rather than (as often now seems the case) ended, on 25 December.

    As a secular Canadian who is culturally Christian, I don’t think anybody should apologise for Christmas, but I don’t think anybody is asking anybody to apologise for Christmas or pretend that Christmas isn’t the main festival of the season. It is a myth that there is an army out there ‘trying to kill Christmas’, and it is spectacularly unhelpful and unfair to say “would the same be done for us if the tables were turned”. That ignorant implication is no doubt aimed at Islam, and ignores the fact that Jesus Christ is revered within Islam, and you will not find muslims opposing religious observance of Jesus. In fact nobody is suggesting anybody should refrain from referring to Christmas.

    So why is ‘Christmas’ seen less often today? Because of governments and corporations. In North America we overwhelmingly believe in the separation of church and state, and businesses are not in the business of showing favourtism to clients based on their cultural background. Governments and businesses naturally, and rightly, want to be inclusive. When TD bank asks it’s employees not to speak of Christmas, but the Holidays, it is saying – “when you speak at work, you speak as TD bank, and we need to to reflect all of Canadian society, not just the Christian part”. When you are at home do what you want, but don’t make judgements about the relative importance of religious festivals while you’re at work.

    Likewise It’s not the job of government to make judgements about the which religion is more important, even if Christianity is the predominant faith among those Canadians who celebrate a religious holiday. Christmas is, for better or worse (and whether it is better or worse is also not the government’s business) primarily a secular event, shared by those of all faiths and no faith. In that context people who bemoan the loss of ‘Christmas’ to ‘the Holidays’ have to see the positives and view it as a minuscule price to pay for an inclusive society. And look at the positive side … the positive message of peace, hope and tolerance taught by the religious festival has been adopted by almost all the world’s cultures. How awesome is that?

    So at home, with family, I absolutely talk about Christmas, as everyone I knows does who shares my broad cultural background. When I’m working, I speak of the Holidays.

  5. Marianne, so very much appreciate your perspective! Currently living in a country where many would have us give in to fear and close ourselves to so many in need I appreciated the reminder that Jesus’ birth and life calls us to open our hearts and our homes to those in need of refuge in whatever form that is required. I too, call it Christmas.

  6. Thank you reminding us that we should continue to practice our faith and customs. Christians are asked to blend and accept without discrimation and now it seems that we are giving up all our customs that we have freely celebrated for years. Let’s ask the question (we know the answer)…would the same be done for us if the tables were turned. Did you know that in Toronto, financial insitutions do not allow their employees to wish each other or their clients Merry Christmas. In fact…it is forbidden…they are reported and punished!

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