As the holiday season approaches, I am always confronted with those who keep on insisting that our traditions are being eroded. Nowhere is this more obvious than when the president of the United States, in addressing the hard-right Values Voter Summit in October, publicly bellowed, “Something I said so much during the last two years, but I’ll say it again: as we approach the end of the year, you know we’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore.… They don’t use the word ‘Christmas’ because it’s not politically correct. You go to department stores and they’ll say ‘Happy New Year,’ and they’ll say other things. It’ll be red. They’ll have it painted. Well, guess what? We’re saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”
Really? I am not sure where Donald Trump has spent his holiday season, but for me, I cannot remember a time, whether I was here in Canada or in the United States, where I wasn’t wished a “Merry Christmas.” And for me, as for so many others, we would reciprocate the greeting with a warm smile.
Sadly, this all seems part of Trump’s agenda – to make up a story that will play to his base, a story that resonates with those who see conspiracies under every Christmas tree or who believe alien forces of Jews and Muslims are poised to take control of a once-great America.
It also plays into Trump’s legion of critics, those who quite understandably simply detest his narcissistic, immature and dangerous divisiveness. Decent folks understand that today’s America (and Canada, for that matter) is not the country of our parents and grandparents. Nonetheless, we have managed to keep traditions alive while reaching out to the thousands of new immigrants and refugees who bring a rich tradition of their own to our shores. And true, it wasn’t always this way.
Canada was different when I was growing up. The only holiday at this time of the year that was noted back then was, of course, Christmas. Public school halls were, in fact, decked with boughs of holly. The Christmas play was one in which we all participated. In fact, I remember the time I came home from my Grade 6 class to announce to my horrified parents that I had been chosen to play Joseph in that year’s Christmas assembly.
A number of years ago, I wrote about my most vivid memory of my childhood Christmases growing up in Ottawa:
“In the 1960s, the Jewish-owned Freiman’s department store on downtown Rideau Street was Ottawa’s Christmas winter wonderland. A miniature train began inside the Freiman’s show window, and we were all in awe as it chugged its way through Toyland towards whom else but Santa Claus himself.
“I recall my concern that time I departed the train and decided I too would sit on Santa’s lap. As I approached the white-bearded man, my Jewish heart pumping a mile a minute, I wondered if an electrical bolt would be sent down from the heavens.
“Turns out Santa was none other than Moishe Gorinsky, a Jewish friend of my father’s, moonlighting that year as a department store Claus. It was a sobering experience for a nine-year-old Jewish boy in 1960, to be sure.”
Flash forward 50 years, where in large Jewish areas like Thornhill, Ont., it isn’t at all uncommon to see a Santa (in various shapes, colours and sizes, nevermind faiths) at the Promenade mall sitting on his chair surrounded by spinning dreidels and other Chanukah decorations.
So yes, times have changed. However, despite the dire warnings from Trump, there is no “war on Christmas.” That is truly “fake news.” Indeed, at this time of the year, most of us try to park the dark thoughts of war to embrace and celebrate our country, our people, its diversity and inclusiveness. Therefore, let me wish all CJN readers a blessed holiday season, whatever you choose to celebrate.