Christmas Controversies 3.0

A commentary on the Christmas controversies of 2017

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I realize it has been a while since I’ve published a post and I’ll tell you more about that in another post, but the Christmas season is fast approaching so it seems only appropriate that this post be about Christmas. Every year at this time of year, I am curious about what controversies will erupt regarding Christmas. I’ve learned this year, like previous years, there are many.

In October, while speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., Donald Trump claimed that political correctness has gotten in the way of celebrating the holiday. He told the crowd that “we’re saying Merry Christmas again” now that he’s president. At the Christian public policy conference, he said “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.”  (see Trump: ‘We’re saying merry Christmas again’). I can’t say as I’ve experienced that as most people still say “Merry Christmas” in my community.

Every year we hear about this storm.  Essentially, the issue is about political correctness and whether people should say to one another Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. To me there is nothing to debate. Just let common sense prevail, but it seems common sense is not so common. It is really about basic etiquette. If you know someone is a Christian who is celebrating Christmas you should say to them ‘Merry Christmas.’ Likewise, say ‘Happy Hanukkah’ to a person you know is Jewish. Similarly, say a happy Diwali to your Hindu friends. Diwali is the autumn Hindu festival of lights celebrated every year.  During the month of Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month, say “Ramadan Mubarak” which means “Happy Ramadan”. If you don’t know a person’s faith, say what feels right; either Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. Being that Canada (and the U.S.) is primarily a Christian country, no one should be offended. If I were in Israel, I would not be offended if someone wished me a “Happy Hanukkah”. Why would a non-Christian be offended when being wished a Merry Christmas in a Christian country?

In fact, The Guardian’s article, Don’t cancel Christmas on behalf of Muslims like me – I love it by Remona Aly, a Muslim, says, “Trying to avoid offending the sensibilities of other religions by watering down Christmas traditions merely fuels the myths of Islamic intolerance.”  The article also says, “there are non-Christians who won’t feel comfortable with saying, “Happy Christmas”, or with being in a nativity play, and that’s totally fair enough and up to them. They shouldn’t be treated like weirdos, nor should they be labelled with that grating word, “intolerant”. So there you have it. I doubt a non-Christian would be offended in a Christian country that celebrates Christian festivals. Why would they?

ABC News article, Upside down Christmas tree trend sparks controversy online, describes a trend whereby Christmas trees are literally turned upside down and decorated. So why would this be controversial? It seems some on social media say this fad is disrespectful to Christmas traditions. Well, traditions can and do change. Now, to be honest, I don’t believe this fad will catch on, but if someone thinks it is cool, then why knock it. Everyone is free to celebrate how they wish so long as it is not injuring someone else.

I’m curious. Where did this idea of decorating a tree for Christmas come from? No one can say for certain, but Country Living’s article, Where Did the Tradition of the Christmas Tree Come From?, says in 1771 “while Christmas trees were appearing in Germany years earlier, the trend really caught on after writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited Strasbourg, near the German border, and included the concept in his novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther”. That same article says that the 1820s was the first record of German settlers in Pennsylvania decorating evergreen trees in America.  It is interesting to note that as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans.

According to History.com,

“The early 20th century saw Americans decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while the German-American sect continued to use apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Popcorn joined in after being dyed bright colours and interlaced with berries and nuts. Electricity brought about Christmas lights, making it possible for Christmas trees to glow for days on end. With this, Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition”.

Now I say to you, traditions regarding the decorating of the Christmas tree have evolved over the years, and they continue to today. No reason to get offended, folks!

Now for the final controversy that I’ll address. It seems for three years in a row now, Starbucks has been immersed in a Christmas controversy over its Holiday cups. This year is no different. According to the New York Times article, Starbucks Is Criticized for Its Holiday Cups. Yes, Again, some people feel that Starbucks is promoting homosexuality.  The interlinked hands on the 2017 Starbucks holiday cups have some suggesting a “gay agenda.” Are people just looking for something to attack Starbucks about?

On November 1st the Holiday cup was introduced with an online video. It featured a diverse cast of Starbucks customers, including a pair of cartoon women who were shown holding hands. The nature of cartoon women’s relationship was not specified, but some viewers saw them as a sign of inclusion of gay and transgender customers. My reaction to that is gay and transgender customers should be included. Why would a business exclude a potential customer? More importantly, I would like to remind people what Christmas is about.

I think the late Dale Evans. an actress and singer, said it best when she said, “Christmas, my child, is love in action” or the late Bob Hope, an actor, comedian and singer, who said, “My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others”.  Christmas is the time Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. This is the same child that grew up to give a new commandment, according to Christian scripture. In the Book of John, chapter 15, verse 12, Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”. He didn’t say love only those you approve of. In fact, in Luke 6.27 Jesus says, “But I say to you, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Jesus’ message was to love everyone. No exceptions!

Since Christmas is a Christian holiday, I’ll define love using Christian scripture. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, it says, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”. This says love is kind and love does not insist on its own way. It seems to me excluding gay and transgender people stems from arrogance and insisting on its own way.  This is not love; in essence, going against the spirit of Christmas.

Dr, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, once said,

“There are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear. From love flows happiness, contentment, peace, and joy. From fear comes anger, hate, anxiety and guilt…”

If this is true, why do people fear the LTGB community? It is time to stop fearing one another and get back to the true meaning of Christmas; a message of love, acceptance, and inclusion. Perhaps this is what Starbucks is endeavouring to tell the world; that Christmas is about loving and accepting one another.

Christmas Controversies 2.0

A commentary on Christmas controversies.

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Christmas 2015 Starbucks controversy

During the 2015 Christmas season, I wrote a post titled Christmas Controversies. One of the quarrels I talked about in that post involved the Starbucks company, a disputation known as the Red Cup Controversy. Previous to 2015, Starbucks had red holiday cups decorated with snowflakes, Christmas ornaments or reindeer but in 2015 the company came out with red cups with just its green logo on it. Starbuck’s reason for the change was to embrace “simplicity and quietness.” As with any controversy, the Christian traditionalists saw this as an attempt to diminish the importance of Christmas.

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2016 Starbucks controversy from Huffington Post

It seems Starbucks is once again surrounded with Christmas controversy in 2016. The Huffington Post has an article called, People Are Raging Mad That Starbucks’ Newest Cups Aren’t Red, that reports Starbucks introduced a new green cup featuring a “mosaic of more than a hundred people drawn in one continuous stroke,” which the company says represents community and unity in a time of political divisiveness. Like last year many people are reacting with anger claiming this year that the holiday cup is threatened. Personally, I like the message that Starbucks is attempting to deliver. If you think about it, the message of “community and unity in a time of political divisiveness” is an appropriate message during Christmas. Thomas S. Monson, an American religious leader, says, “the spirit of Christmas is the spirit of love and of generosity and of goodness. It illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things”.

Now I agree with Mr. Monson. If this is what Christmas is about then Starbuck’s message of unity is very much a Christmas message. It’s important to understand that the kind of love that Mr. Monson is talking about is what the Greeks call agape love. This is the highest form of love. It’s the kind of love that the Christian bible speaks of. It’s the kind of love that Jesus spoke of and modelled. It is selfless love. Agape love is unconditional love; a love that transcends and operates regardless of circumstances. It should not be confused with what the Greeks called philia, which means brotherly love.   Divisiveness can only be overcome with unconditional love so Starbuck’s message of “community and unity” is most certainly a Christmas message.

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Scene from “Hipster Nativity” set

Crux, an independent Catholic news site, has an article called, Retail ‘Hipster Nativity’ scene stirs controversy. This controversy is most interesting. This Nativity set, called the “Hipster Nativity” set features Joseph sporting a lumberjack beard as well as a man bun while using his iPhone to selfie the moment as the Segway-riding wise men present baby Jesus with amazon.com boxes. Now I can understand this controversy and why traditionalists might be angered by it. Upon first reading about this controversy, my reaction was, “this makes fun of the manger scene, a sacred Christmas symbol”. But then I thought about it. Maybe we North Americans are just too uptight. Maybe we just need to relax and look at things differently. So, that is what I did. Firstly, if you think about it, this nativity scene is a true commentary about our society. We are a technological and materialistic society. Maybe there is a message for our Western civilization. Maybe the “Hipster Nativity” set is a metaphor reminding us that consumerism is the cause of our divisiveness.  Secondly, if God is a loving God (that is what Christians believe, isn’t it?) would God care about such dissension? The Christian scriptures tell us in 1 John 4:8, “whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love”. Think about that. God’s very essence is love. Now we’re not referring to romantic love here. The kind of love that the biblical passage is referring to is agape love which means unconditional love, the kind of love that God has for humanity. The bottom line is, if God is an unconditionally loving God, then God would not be offended by the “Hipster Nativity” set. In fact, God is likely having a good laugh. Maybe we should too.

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Santa VS Jesus card game from Amazon

Another interesting controversy is reported by Yahoo News called, This Season’s Most Controversial Holiday Card Game: Santa verses Jesus.  This is a “tongue-in-cheek” card game based on the question; who actually rules Christmas? Is it Santa or is it Jesus?  The creators of Santa VS Jesus Card Game, one of the top-selling card games on Amazon.com in the United Kingdom, splits players into two teams which go head-to-head in an attempt to win the most believers. This determines who will rule Christmas. The two sides, Team Santa and Team Jesus undergo Christmas themed challenges (puzzles, riddles, brainteasers) to win over believers. IBT’s article, Is ‘Santa VS Jesus’ Board Game Blasphemous? discusses the controversy. The article quotes Danny Webster, a spokesperson for the Evangelical Alliance UK, who says the game “trivializes Christian belief and equates them both as fictional characters.”  So once again I ask; Are we North Americans just too uptight?  Let’s look at this controversy differently. Maybe this game is really a blessing in disguise. Maybe it forces people to take a good look at Christmas and what the holiday is all about. Is it a holiday about gift giving, which is what Santa is all about, or is it about Jesus, a holiday where Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus? Whether you believe Jesus is the son of God, as Christians do, or that Jesus is one of many ascended masters (spiritually enlightened beings) or just a man who had a message worth paying attention to, it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is Christmas is about the “Spirit of Christmas” which is about love; agape love actually. It is a season to remind us that we humans need to be inclusive, joyful and most importantly unconditionally loving.  In other words, the very message Jesus delivered.

We can get so caught up in the mentality that Christmas is being attacked instead of paying attention to what is important. What is important you ask? I think the Baha’i faith has it figured out. This is a faith that emphasizes the unity of humanity transcending all divisions of race, nation, gender, caste, and social class, while celebrating its diversity. Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith wrote, “The earth is but one country, and [hu]mankind its citizens.” Abdu’l-Baha’s, his eldest son, enhanced the message with the “unification of [hu]mankind” has now become “the paramount issue and question in the religious and political conditions of the world.” If we look at what has been occurring in our world recently we can clearly see that divisiveness is alive and well. The American presidential election was one of the most divisive in history. Brexit is another example of European divisiveness rather than unity.  I believe the Baha’i faith has the true Christmas message. We are all part of the human family and therefore we are called to unite through agape love. That is what Christmas is about!

Thanksgiving, More Than a Holiday.

A commentary on the meaning of Thanksgiving

thanksgiving-clip-art-thanksgiving-turkey-clipart-4-jpg-jcnrel-clipartOn Monday, October 10, 2016 our family, like most Canadians, celebrated the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday. Thanksgiving is a statutory holiday in most of Canada, with the exceptions being the Atlantic provinces of Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, where it is an optional holiday. In its beginnings Thanksgiving was celebration for a successful harvest but the tradition has changed over the years. Now the focus is to get together with family to eat a large turkey dinner, including stuffing and pumpkin pie for dessert.

The first Thanksgiving Day after Canada’s Confederation was observed as a civic holiday on April 5, 1872. It was to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII, from a serious illness. It was made official on January 31, 1957, when the Canadian Parliament proclaimed: A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed, to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October. During and after the American Revolution, Americans who remained loyal to Great Britain moved from United States to Canada. They brought with them the customs and practices of the American Thanksgiving, such as the turkey, pumpkin, and squash.

Thanksgiving in the United States is a public holiday, celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November by all 50 states. Americans commonly trace the Thanksgiving holiday to a 1621 celebration at the Plymouth Plantation, where the settlers held a harvest feast after a successful growing season. It has been celebrated as a federal holiday every year since 1863, due to President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation declaring it as a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

An interesting difference between Canada and the US is that in America, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is one of their biggest shopping days.  Black Friday has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season with stores offering many items on sale. That is not the case in Canada although we are starting to see retail outlets offer Black Friday sales in Canada. For Canadians, the holiday Monday means it’s a long weekend and shopping isn’t an essential part of it. Canada’s biggest shopping day of the year is December 26, Boxing Day, the day after Christmas.

Every thanksgiving, barring the occasional exception, we gather as a family to eat our turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, carrots harvested from my garden, and turnips. The meal always finishes with pumpkin pie. Before we eat our delicious meal each family member takes turns sharing with one another at least five things we are thankful for. We have done this since our three children were little. Sometimes they would complain becoming impatient since they were hungry. My wife and I had a policy that if we heard complaining, our children would have to share more than the required number of “thankfuls”. One year when our eldest daughter was in her early teens she starting complaining about the number of “thankfuls” she was required to share. Each time she complained my wife and I added more. She finally stopped complaining after she reached about 12. She reluctantly came up with 12 things she was thankful for. We still laugh about that.

I always take time to express the things I’m grateful for at thanksgiving. I will always be grateful for my loving and supportive wife. She puts up with all my crazy ideas and ventures. I will always be grateful for my three wonderful children. We are fortunate enough to have two daughters and a son. All three of them have made us proud with the hard work they did to achieve their university degrees and how they practice their careers with commitment, purpose and integrity. I am also grateful for my health and the health of my loved ones. I am grateful to be living in a country that is inclusive, safe and respected. I could go on and on.

attitude-whatsapp-profile-pictures-attitude-dp-coolstatus-co-yvaufa-clipartThinking about this post, I realized that Thanksgiving is really about our attitude. Thanksgiving is more than just a holiday. It’s also a reminder to us to have an “attitude of gratitude”. It should be an attitude that we have every day of our lives. Why, you may ask? Psychology Today says there are seven scientifically proven benefits of gratitude. They are

  • Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.
  • Gratitude improves physical health.
  • Gratitude improves psychological health.
  • Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression.
  • Grateful people sleep better.
  • Gratitude improves self-esteem.
  • Gratitude increases mental strength.

The blog, Happier Human, has a post titled, The 31 Benefits of Gratitude You Didn’t Know About: How Gratitude Can Change Your Life, which obviously claims there are 31 benefits of Gratitude. One that caught my attention is gratitude lets you live longer. The Huffington Post’s article, 10 Reasons Why Gratitude Is Healthy, says it has benefits to the heart,  immune system and boosts general well-being.

The article titled, Why Gratitude Is Good, summarizes the benefits of gratitude this way:

Physical
• Stronger immune systems
• Less bothered by aches and pains
• Lower blood pressure
• Exercise more and take better care of their health
• Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking

Psychological
• Higher levels of positive emotions
• More alert, alive, and awake
• More joy and pleasure
• More optimism and happiness

Social
• More helpful, generous, and compassionate
• More forgiving
• More outgoing
• Feel less lonely and isolated.

happy-thanksgiving-clipart-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-ksmaop-clipartEven though there may not be agreement on the number of benefits to having an “attitude of gratitude”, one can safely conclude that there are benefits to having this attitude. So don’t just have this “attitude of gratitude” at Thanksgiving, have it every single day of your life. Maybe start a gratitude journal. I have done this from time to time. (Now that I think about it, I haven’t done a journal in a while. I need to do something about that). It forces us to think of things that we are thankful for. If you’re not sure what a gratitude journal is or how to do one, see the article, Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal. So I encourage you to develop that “attitude of gratitude.” The bottom line is, it’s good for you.

Nature’s Wonders

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Lake Louise

It astonishes me the number of beautiful places this planet has to offer for us humans to appreciate. I consider myself blessed because my wife and I have seen a handful of them. When I look at websites advocating must see places to visit in the world, I am surprised at how many I have seen. These sites often mention places such as Santorini in Greece, Venice in Italy, Paris in France, Rome in Italy, Stonehenge at Amesbury, England, Glacier National Park in Montana, USA all of which I have visited. With the exception of Glacier Park, these places all involve flights over oceans but we don’t have to travel across oceans to see beautiful places. There are so many places right here in our own country. The Internet has many lists of must see places on it and many of these lists include places in the Canadian Rocky Mountains; places like Banff National Park, Lake Louise, Jasper National Park, and Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park.

The Reader’s Digest’s article, 10 Places In Canada Every Canadian Needs To Visit includes Banff National Park and Lake Louise on its list. CNN’s article, 20 of the most beautiful places in Canada includes Jasper National Park and Lake Louise on it. When you search the Internet for must see places in Canada, the Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park, Jasper National Park or Lake Louise will almost inevitably show up on the list.

The Canadian Rockies are an assemblage of mountains that extend to  parts of British Columbia and Alberta. They were formed about 55 to 80 million years ago in what is called the Cretaceous era. These mountains are made up of layered sedimentary rocks and when you take the time to look you can see the layers. Their peaks are sharp and pointy because of glaciers on it.

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Bighorn sheep

There are five national parks that are part of the Canadian Rockies; these are Yoho, Jasper, Kootenay, Banff and Waterton. Banff National Park was the first to be formed. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is made up of four Canadian Rocky Mountain national parks and has a total protected area of over 20,000 square kilometres. If you are lucky enough you might see animals such as grizzly or black bears, deer, elk, moose, cougars and bighorn sheep. My wife and I caught a glimpse of a black bear and numerous bighorn sheep. We also saw some moose. The Canadian Rockies have been likened to the 2016-05-15 15.33.08African Serengeti in terms of the abundance of wildlife. When you drive in Banff National Park you’ll notice places where wildlife can cross the Trans-Canada Highway on specially built over and under passes, designed to reduce collisions with the animals.

My wife and I just recently spent a week in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. We visited three of the five national parks; Banff, Jasper and Kootenay. Even though I’ve been to the Rockies many times, I still find the beauty of these majestic mountains to be breathtaking. When I’m among these gigantic, unique pieces of rock I feel a closeness to our creator God especially when we are walking on one of the numerous beautiful hiking trails. My wife and I spent three days in Jasper National Park where we went to Maligne Lake for the first time. It was truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Maligne Lake, Jasper
Maligne Lake, Jasper

Another thing that always amazes me, or both of us really, is the number of people from all over the world you meet or the variety of languages you hear. We heard languages in French, German, Chinese, Japanese and some we didn’t recognize. We met people from France, China, United States, and Germany. It truly is a global village. All of these people were doing the same thing as we were. They were taking in the beauty of the Canadian Rockies.

It astounds me the number of people I know who live in the province of Alberta, Canada, that have never been to the Canadian Rockies. We live on the east side of the province of Alberta, probably one of the farthest points from the Rockies yet both my wife and I have been there too many times to count. It takes us six hours to drive to the Jasper town site. Yet, so many people who live even closer to the west side of the province where the Rockies are located have never taken the time to visit those majestic sites.

There are so many wonderful places to see in our world, many of them in our own back yard. Life is too short to procrastinate seeing them. Now I know it is human nature to make excuses for not doing it; excuses like it costs too much, not enough time or work is just too important to miss. I just think it is sad that people don’t take the time to see such wonderful formations of nature. It is so important to spend time seeing what nature has created and just being in nature. It doesn’t have to be the Rocky Mountains although if you haven’t seen them you definitely should. There are so many benefits to being in nature. According to the article, Get Outside! 7 Scientifically-Backed Health Benefits of Being in Nature, spending time in nature improves attention spans, boosts serotonin (the feel good neurotransmitter) levels and shows increased activity in the parts of the brain responsible for empathy, emotional stability, and love.  Some research suggests urban environments do the same for fear and anxiety. Being in nature is good for your health. Take the time to experience a bit of heaven on earth. It is worth the effort. Or as the French author, Jules Renard says,  On earth there is no heaven, but there are pieces of it.

Bring the New Year

Here we are again saying goodbye to another year and bringing in another new year. It boggles my mind (mainly because it reminds me that I’m getting older) how fast annual events come about, whether they be birthdays, anniversaries, holidays or even the Stanley Cup playoffs. New Years is one of those annual events.

Now when you talk to people you discover that some people tend to live in fear. For example, these individuals are afraid to travel because “terrible things,” like terrorism, might (and I emphasize the word might) occur in the world. I categorize these individuals as the pessimists. Now I will admit that I sometimes can fall into this category. It’s easy to do. These are the people who always point out the negative in the world. These are the folks who say, “What kind of world will our children or grandchildren live in?” Fearful individuals seem to believe the world is “going to hell” and are anxious because 2016 will be even worse than 2015.

What I find interesting is that attitudes have not changed. My Mom talks about how her parents used to worry about the kind of world their children and grandchildren would be born into. My parents used to be concerned about the state of the world as they lived during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. The world has always faced challenges and threats. Today is no different. The reality is the world continues to survive.

Now to be fair, there is some merit to their fear; to their pessimism.  2015 has seen many heartbreaking events. Here are some that caught my imagesattention. In October Hurricane Patricia, the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere, had winds up to 322 kilometres per hour (200 mph). November saw  multiple attacks by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the best known was the attack in Paris, France, resulting in 130 fatalities. Also in November of this year Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet which is the first case of a NATO member destroying a Russian aircraft since the 1950s. In June of 2015, ISIL claimed responsibility for three attacks around the world during Ramadan such as the one in Kuwait City where a suicide bomber attacked a Mosque killing 27 people and injuring 227 others. Then there was the Greek government debt crisis in July when Greece became the first developed economy to miss a payment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the 70-year history of the IMF.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the story that has been dominating the news most of the 2015 year and that is the Syrian refugee crisis; the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.  The International Organization for Migration claims that more than one million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015. Now I could list other events, but there is no question that there have been numerous shameful events in 2015.

Thank God  (or Allah, or Yahweh, or the Universe) there are those who always see the good in the world. I categorize them as the optimists.  Optimists are filled with hope. These are folks who believe that the world can be better; that humanity is not all bad. Individuals such as these look to 2016 with an attitude of hope, hoping that things will improve.  I choose to align myself with the optimists.

There is merit to their argument. Here are some of the jovial events that caught my attention. In April, health officials declared the Americas the first region in the world to be free of the endemic rubella, or German measles, thanks to a 15-year effort to vaccinate men, women, and children everywhere in the northern hemisphere. This is great news since rubella can cause death or severe birth defects when women catch the disease during pregnancy. In July, history was made when Cuba and the United States reestablished full diplomatic relations, ending a 54-year history of GUSTAVO-CAMACHO-GONZALEZ-L1060274_(23430273715)hostility between the nations. In December, a global climate change pact was agreed upon at the COP 21 summit, where  195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. This is great news for the planet. Also in December of this year SpaceX, a company that hopes to revolutionize space technology, lands a Falcon 9 rocket.  This is the first reusable rocket to successfully enter the Earth’s orbit and return. This brings hope for space travel as it makes it cheaper. December also saw Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi make a surprise visit to  Pakistan to meet his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif.  This is the first time an Indian leader has visited Pakistan in over a decade.  Relations between these two countries have been bitter ever since the violent division of British India in 1947, and the two nations have a history of  numerous military conflicts. This shows that good relations are possible between rivals. That gives hope that peace is achievable. Also in December the members of the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously in favour of a law to ban smoking in cars that are carrying children. That’s great news for kids. There are certainly more positive events of 2015 I could report, but you get the idea.

The Atlantic Monthly in December of 2015 , a magazine published in Washington, D.C,  wrote an article called 2015: The Best Year in History for the Average Human Being. The article cites numerous reasons for making this claim.  Here are a few that caught my attention.

“At the Paris climate conference in December, countries demonstrated renewed resolve to tackle global climate change together. Absent any policies enacted to slow climate change since 2010, the world might have been more than 4 degrees Celsius hotter in 2100 than pre-industrial temperatures. Existing policies to cut emissions reduced that forecast to 3.6 degrees, and the additional pledges in Paris brought it to 2.7 degrees Celsius.”
“The Global Terrorism Index says, 11,133 people died in terrorist attacks—suggesting terrorism accounted for about 1.8 percent of violent deaths worldwide. And for all that terrorism deaths have increased since 2012, they remain responsible for perhaps three hundredths of one percent of global mortality…Rabies was responsible for three times as many deaths as terrorism that year. Stomach cancer killed more people than murder, manslaughter, and wars combined…”
“Civil and political rights also continued their stuttering spread. While 2015 saw rights on the retreat in countries including Turkey and Thailand, the number of electoral democracies worldwide remains at a historic high according to Freedom House…This year, there were peaceful and democratic transitions of power in settings as diverse as Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Myanmar, and Argentina. And Saudi Arabia held local elections where, for the first time ever, women were allowed to stand as candidates and vote.”
The Atlantic Monthly focuses on the positives of 2015. What astounds me is instead of feeling good about the progress made in 2015, the pessimists choose to downplay the article. CBC did this in their article, 2015 ‘the best year in history’? Not everyone agrees. Why not be proud of what humanity has achieved in 2015? Why can’t humans celebrate the positives rather than dwell on the negatives?
When doing research for this post, I ‘googled’ predictions for 2016. What is intriguing to me is the vast majority of the predictions are ‘doom and gloom’ predictions.  One ‘hit’ was titled 2016 will be a year of living dangerously for the global economy.  The Inquisitr, an internationally recognized news website, predicts World War Three will start in 2016.  When you think about it, the third world war has already started as the war on terrorism involves much of the world community. I guess they’re right about that prediction. At least Newsweek predicts a  rise in electric cars which if it becomes true is great for the environment.  Now remember, a prediction is just a guess or a forecast.  When I ‘googled’, “How many predictions came true in 2015?” the vast majority of ‘hits’ were talking about the movie Back to the Future II. In this movie Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel to the future in their time machine, the DeLorean. The date set on the time machine was October 21, 2015.  The various websites were comparing the 2015 of today with the 2015 of the movie. I had little luck finding anything else. That leads me to believe that most of the predictions made for 2015 didn’t come true. Certainly some of the political changes that occurred in 2015 weren’t predicted.

best-year-everSo what will 2016 bring? The pessimists will likely envision , more ISIL terrorist attacks,  more anger from Mother Nature in the form of violent storms, more conflicts between nations, more economic problems, and on and on. Optimists will focus on the positives like improved political relations, the international community working together to slow climate change, improvements in human rights, improvements in health, and so on. I choose to be in the optimist camp. I choose to believe that 2016 will bring many good things. Really, the only thing we can control is the choices we make. To quote Brad Paisley, “Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 [366 for 2016] page book. Write a good one.” I’m choosing to make it a good one. I’m choosing to make 2016  a great year!

Interesting reads: 5 Major Trends and Make your 2016 better

What is the Meaning of Christmas?

If I am honest with myself, I have to admit that I have always had some struggles with the consumerism of Christmas. I grew up with six siblings and parents who didn’t have much money. We always received gifts for Christmas, but they were simple gifts like farm sets and matchbox vehicles. Truth be told, we were happy with the gifts given to us, even though they were not the biggest or newest toys on the market at the time. Being an adult for some time now, I’ve witnessed family and friends giving extravagant gifts worth hundreds or thousands of dollars, and I have always thought how ridiculous this seemed as it was proof for me of the rampant consumerism that occurred at Christmas time.

People’s struggles with consumerism have been going on a long time. In 1965, an animated television special based on the comic strip Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz, debuted for the first time on television. The special was called A Charlie Brown Christmas and this was a cartoon that really addressed the issue of consumerism at Christmas.

51ACRI9SIYL._SX940_In the cartoon, Charlie Brown knows that he should be happy, but he isn’t. He believes that commercialism is the problem. He struggles with his younger sister Sally who wants him to help her with her Christmas letter to Santa, where she dictates, “I have been extra good this year, so I have a long list of presents that I want. Please note the size and color of each item, and send as many as possible. If it seems too complicated, make it easy on yourself: just send money. How about tens and twenties?” He is also conflicted when Snoopy enters a Christmas decorating contest and wins a cash prize.

Charlie doesn’t know what to do about it all. When Lucy suggests that he direct the Christmas play, Charlie Brown hopes to find the true meaning of Christmas in the process. Even that doesn’t seem to work. One of the last pieces for the play is to get a Christmas tree as the set centerpiece. Charlie Brown, along with Linus, takes on the task with his entire cast wanting him to pick out a nice aluminum tree. Instead, Charlie Brown chooses a small, frail looking real tree, which when he tries to decorate it  he believes he has failed.

Even Linus declares, “Christmas is not only getting too commercial, it’s getting too dangerous.” Linus’ sister Lucy tells Charlie, “Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.” The cartoon is about Charlie Brown who is trying to obtain the real meaning of Christmas, which he believes is eclipsed by commercialism.

No one speaks of consumerism around Christmas better than Cal Thomas, an American syndicated columnist who often writes from a Christian perspective. Mr. Thomas recognized uncomfortable truths about Christmas in his December 2003 column. In his column he wrote:

“I’m not sure it’s worth keeping Christmas anymore. Oh, it is fine for those apparently dwindling numbers of us who still believe in the “original cast” of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Wise Men and the animals. They, as any post-Thanksgiving (not to mention postmodern) shopper knows, have been replaced by the road show of reindeer, winter scenes, elves and the God substitute, Santa Claus, who serves as a front for merchants seeking to play on the guilt some parents bear for ignoring their kids the rest of the year…

Why participate any longer in this charade where the focal point of worship has shifted from a babe in a manger to a babe in the Victoria’s Secret window? From gold, frankincense and myrrh to Bailey Banks & Biddle? No room in the inn has been replaced by no room in the mall parking lot. If God would get a lawyer out of hell, He might be justified in suing for copyright infringement. His great story has been hijacked and transformed into its opposite.”

Even though the column was written twelve years ago, Mr. Thomas still echoes the sentiment that many people feel today. Add to that the desire by some for political correctness or the mentality of some that we cannot say “Merry Christmas” for fear that we might offend non-Christians; that the politically correct thing is to say “Happy Holidays.”  The Bible Society of Australia conducted some research in 2011 about the Australian public’s attitude towards Christmas. 70% of Australian believers think the true meaning of Christmas has been lost. Their research also discovered that 51.9% of ‘non-Christians’ think that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost. (see Loosing the meaning of Christmas). So that begs the question, what is the true meaning of Christmas? Is Christmas just about giving gifts as our consumerist society wants us to believe?  I’ve been reflecting on this question for some time now and I have come to the conclusion that Christmas is really about love.

img_3204In 1995, Dr. Gary Chapman published a book called, Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, a book I read a few years ago. Here is a quick summary of the five love languages as described by the Verily website.

  1. Words of Affirmation: Actions don’t always speak louder than words. If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important—hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten.

  2. Quality Time: In the vernacular of Quality Time, nothing says, “I love you,” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there—with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby—makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful.

  3. Receiving Gifts: Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous—so would the absence of everyday gestures.

  4. Acts of Service: Can vacuuming the floors really be an expression of love? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. The words he or she most wants to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter.

  5. Physical Touch: This language isn’t all about the bedroom. A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive.

I have always thought that there was a lot of merit to Dr. Chapman’s Five Love Languages. How does Christmas fit in with Dr. Chapman’s love languages? Well, after thinking about it, it turns out that Christmas addresses all the languages of love. Let’s have a look at each.

  1. Words of Affirmation: Giving affirmations are part of the Christmas tradition. Compliments such as “that Christmas dinner was delicious” or “You look great” are freely given. Christmas cards are sent out each year expressing sentiments of love to others. Christmas letters do the same thing. This does not include the affirmations we give when we greet our loved ones when visiting them at Christmas. Words of affirmation have always been a part of the Christmas tradition and still are.
  2. Quality Time: Christmas is about spending quality time with family. The Bible Society Australia research I mentioned earlier discovered that 94% of Australians liked spending time with loved ones at Christmas. I know of individuals that only see their loved ones at Christmas time. To quote Burton Hillis, “The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other. Quality time is unquestionably an important part of the Christmas tradition.
  3. Receiving Gifts: Not much needs to be said about this love language. The biggest aspect of Christmas is gift giving. It has always been this way. However, that doesn’t mean that gifts have to be worth enormous amounts of money. Mother Teresa once said, “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
  4. Acts of Service: Christmas is also a time when people do something special for others. It might be buying an extra gift to donate to Santa’s Anonymous. It might be conducting a food bank drive. Christmas seems to be a time that brings out the “goodness” in people. In my community, one family puts on a Christmas dinner for those less fortunate in the community. Acts of Service are a part of the Christmas tradition.
  5. Physical Touch: I can’t speak for everyone, but my experience of Christmas has always been filled with lots of hugs and kisses from loved ones. People seem extra happy at Christmas and therefore seem more willing to express their feelings through physical touch That could be a hug or a kiss or at the very least a hand shake.  Dacher Keltner in his article Hands on Research says, “the science of touch convincingly suggests that we’re wired to; we need to connect with other people on a basic physical level. To deny that is to deprive ourselves of some of life’s greatest joys and deepest comforts.” Physical touch is a critical part of the Christmas tradition.

So after much reflection on the topic, I’ve come to the conclusion that Christmas is more than the consumerism that I’ve been dwelling on. It’s more than gift giving. Christmas brings out the best in people. Christmas is a time that brings forth more love into the world. Christmas is about a spirit of love, otherwise known as the Christmas spirit.

The Christ child is a symbol of love, hope and peace that creates a joyful season. For Christian believers its more than a symbol. For non-believers the child is a symbol of love. Perhaps Linus Van Pelt expressed what Christmas is all about best when he said, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'”

Christmas is an attitude. It’s a time when we allow the spirit of Christmas that inspires us to give and receive. That can be in the form of acts of kindness, giving gifts, saying a kind word, smiling at a stranger,  giving hugs freely, or visiting someone you haven’t seen in a long time. Calvin Coolidge says it best when he said, “Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy [I prefer to say compassion], is to have the real spirit of Christmas.” The true meaning of Christmas is about a change in attitude. It’s about allowing the spirit of love, otherwise known as the Christmas spirit, to take hold of us.

Christmas Controversies

Every year as the Christmas season approaches controversies erupt around political correctness and tolerance. This year there was the Starbucks controversy (see Red Cup Controversy) , which monopolized imageheadlines in November. The company typically has its red holiday cups decorated with snowflakes, Christmas ornaments or reindeer, but chose for a minimalist design this year with cups that are red with nothing but its green logo. Starbucks executives said they wanted to embrace “simplicity and quietness.” However some Christian conservatives saw these new cups as an attempt to diminish the importance of Christmas.

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 10.50.33 AMAnother controversy occurred in Oakville, Washington, a town of 700 people who typically celebrates Christmas without controversy (see Christmas Message Sparks Controversy).  This year volunteer firefighters at Grays Harbor Fire District No.1 put a biblical message on their sign. The sign outside the fire station read, “Unto us a savior is born. Merry Christmas.” So when someone complained the fire commissioner ordered the sign to come down and their Christmas tree turned off.

I understand some of the thinking around these controversies. After all we live in a multicultural country and it is important to be sensitive to the different cultures around us. In fact, Canada celebrates multiculturalism and has officially made multiculturalism it’s policy. In 1971, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the father of Canada’s present prime minister, Justin Trudeau, acknowledged its commitment to the principle of multiculturalism and formalized a policy to protect and promote diversity. Canada was the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy. This policy affirmed the value and dignity of all Canadian citizens regardless of their racial or ethnic origins, their language, or their religious affiliation.

In 1988, the Canadian Multiculturalism Act was enacted by then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. This Act has two fundamental principles:

  1. All citizens are equal and have the freedom to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage.
  2. Multiculturalism promotes the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in all aspects of Canadian society.

The United States does not have any kind of act recognizing its multicultural diversity that I am aware of, but nonetheless, like Canada, it is a country made up of immigrants and therefore it’s society encompasses many cultures.

So I get it (I think). I understand the need to be sensitive to other religious traditions and cultures. After all, the Canadian Multiculturalism Act states, “Citizens…have the freedom to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage.” So the way I see it, Christmas is a time for Christians to share their religious heritage.

Christmas is celebrated on December 25th and is the day when Christians celebrate the birth of Yeshua or Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is regarded by most Christians as the Son of God and the savior of humanity. It seems every year there are some people who take offense to Christians expressing this belief.  Christians should not feel stifled in any way when celebrating one of their biggest festivals!

250px-Menorah_0307The Jewish tradition celebrates Hanukkah or the “Feast of Dedication,” also known as the “Festival of Lights”.  This festival is celebrated on the 8th day of December and it is a time when Jewish people recall a miracle in the Jerusalem temple during a war fought by the Maccabees for the cause of religious freedom. Temple candles only had enough oil to burn for a single day. Yet they burned for eight days. Jews light candles on a menorah, two on the first day, three on the second, to nine on the eighth day. Jews should not feel restricted in any way when celebrating Hanukkah. In fact, this celebration should be encouraged. Perhaps in addition to Starbucks having cups with Christmas decorations on it, the company should also include cups with the menorah on it.

Also on December 8th, or on the Sunday immediately preceding it, the Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day. This day recalls the day in 596 BCE, when Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the Buddha (meaning enlightened one) sat beneath a Bodhi tree and is believed to have achieved enlightenment, thus escaping the repeating cycle of reincarnation: involving birth, life, death and rebirth. Being this is an important day for the Buddhists, why not have some Starbucks cups with Bodhi trees on them in December as well. This would be a great way to educate people about the various religious traditions among us and maybe even build religious tolerance, which is so badly needed in our world.

For Muslims, Eid al-Adha is a significant annual Islamic observance for many Muslims around the world. It is also known as the Feast of Sacrifice or Festival of Sacrifice or Day of Sacrifice as it commemorates Ibrahim’s (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son to God. Eid al-Adha is a happy occasion that many Muslims celebrate. It is around the 10th to the 13th days of the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah (or Dhul Hijja). This is the twelfth and final month in the Islamic calendar. It is a very sacred month in the Islamic calendar, one in which Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) takes place. It is a time marked by special prayers and many Muslims gather for special prayer services. Many people also visit family and friends, exchange greetings and gifts, and make donations to the poor. It is also a time for forgiveness and compassion. Doesn’t that sound a lot like Christians at Christmas? At Christmas don’t people gather for special prayer services, visit family and friends, and exchange greetings and gifts?

In 2006, 2007, and 2008, Eid al-Adha was celebrated in December. These holy days have left December, but will return in about three decades. Why not have some Starbucks cups commemorating this Islamic festival during the month when it is celebrated. This would be a great way to educate people about Islam especially during a time in history when Islamophobia is rampant. Why not?

We can get so caught up in political correctness or the mentality that we might offend non-Christians if we celebrate Christmas publicly. These festivals should be celebrated publicly and acclaimed with pride. I am not referring to just the Christian festivals but all religious festivals. Instead of being afraid to offend someone, companies such as Starbucks, should be willing to acknowledge these festivals when they occur and their cups should acknowledge the festival of whichever religious celebration is occurring. Maybe I’m being naive, I don’t know. Maybe this is easier said than done, but it seems to me that this would be a way to educate people about the various religions of the world and a way to build religious tolerance rather than contributing to fear and resentment of other religious traditions.