(Photo credit: cinemafaith.com)
I love what Christmas represents at its best. I confess to nostalgia at this time of year, but not just nostalgia about when times were simpler and Christmas was still really and recognizably about the birth of Jesus Christ and all he means in Bethlehem two thousand plus years ago.
Since Samuel de Champlain founded the city of Quebec in 1608, Canada has been a land of many immigrants and continual cultural change. Originally, this principally meant a mixing of three streams – the original aboriginal stream, the French settler stream, and the British settler mixture of English, Scottish, and Irish dating from 1763 (much earlier in Newfoundland and 1713 in the Maritimes). All these streams are still immensely important in understanding who Canadians are and how Canada became what it is.
Since the early 1900s there has been a vast influx of many other ethnicities. Until the 1970s and 1980s, the major contributories to this fourth stream were mostly of European origin. There has always been a trickle of others along the way, but since roughly 1980 the non-European factor has become a great tide.
To turn away from and try to stem that tide would be folly. Nor would I or most “Old Canadians” wish to. It would also be to deny a vital, enriching part of who and what we now are and are becoming.
For the most part, our First Nations graciously and generously received the early settlers from France and made room for them. The coming of the English after the Seven Years War of 1756-63 (La Conquête to French-Canadians) radically changed the whole dynamic.
Whenever possible, New France had largely dealt with the indigenous as both partners and allies. The French sent missionaries and established schools and hospitals from which the indigenous were invited to benefit. Things were not perfect, but there was a level of mutual respect. Even the enemy Haudenosaunee (Iroquois to the Europeans) mostly knew what was what with the Canadiens habitants and the officers of New France. Eventually, they made peace based on mutual acceptance and earned respect.
Following the bitter British Imperial Civil War known as the American Revolution (1775-83) came the arrival of a major influx of American-British refugees known in our history as “the Loyalists”. Unfortunately, the arrogance and presumption of these settlers and their descendants too often repaid indigenous (and Canadien when it came to commerce and business) kindness and generosity with disdain, theft, usurpation, duplicity, and exploitation. This is not to whitewash abuses of the indigenous committed in Quebec as the spirit of assimilation began to set in there too. Today, the national and provincial governments, along with some of the worst offending institutions, are only now beginning to ‘fess up and make some serious moves to try to heal the terrible wounds and scars on the national soul.
The culture of Canada is no longer rooted in a formal Christian identity inherited from the European nations. One symptom of this is an accelerating shift away from the ethos of an at least nominally Christ-centred Christmas season. This is in no way the “fault” of the “Fourth Wave” of non-Euro ethnicities who have come and continue to come with all their own traditions.
It is not a denial of the richness of this new cultural input to mourn the neglect and what strikes “Old Canadians” such as yours truly as a deliberate abandonment of the Christian heritage of this much-blessed nation. I repeat: the neglect is not the fault of immigrants. In fact, it is not even their desire on the basis of some sort of right to equality.
It is a choice of the Euro-element to turn away from and shame its own ancient heritage in favour of a more “progressive”, secular one based on pseudo-Enlightenment values. There is an assumption by the elite movers and shakers now ensconced in the seats of greatest cultural and educational power that ditching the Judeo-Christian ethos that so greatly influenced the original “Dominion of Canada” founded in 1867 has been essential to a complete makeover of Canada’s national identity. That elite believes that their agenda must still be militantly pursued as an unfinished task as long as any of the old culture’s vestiges cling to the national psyche. The open animosity to specifically Christian institutions and heritage contributions and the rewriting of our legal traditions and history to exclude them as of any importance blatantly demonstrate this.
The general population is likely little concerned about this culture-shift and the militant secularization and redefinition of Canada it signals. Even most still-professing Christians have, like the proverbial frog in the pot, grown accustomed to this trend, and seldom discuss the issue, let alone what might be done to counter it. It seems to them as inevitable and perhaps, somehow, for the best, or at least God’s will.
At any rate, Christ has virtually disappeared or been consciously erased from both the public and domestic life of this country. Strangely, the country’s national motto is still unchanged and remains inscribed over the main entrance of our Parliament Building, at least for the moment. It reads: “He [the Messiah] shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.” (Psalm 72, verse 8) To the Fathers of Confederation in 1867, this declared (in their still Christianized interpretation) God’s dominion from the Atlantic to the Pacific (and later the Artic) Oceans, and “the river” was the St. Lawrence – the highway into the very heart of the country. The English version of the national anthem still has the line “God keep our land” – with allowance that “God” can mean whatever you like. (The French version is unchanged from its original lyrics written in the late 19th Century, and it is blatantly religious!)
The post-Christian cultural revolution in the West I have been describing in its Canadian context is the same which has swept Europe, the United States, and Western outliers such as Australia and New Zealand. Many of the European states have a barely breathing remembrance of Christendom, despite the appearance of oddities such as political parties calling themselves “Christian Democrats”. Churches are largely museums and cultural artefacts, even those still kept open for religious functions among the remnant of Christians. Such ceremonies are seen as living lessons in sociology and anthropology by their State benefactors.
In the USA, desperate manifestations such as the Far-Right’s mixture of radicalized Evangelicalism with demagogic populism only further prove how far things have gone. The mixing of Christ’s name with very unchristian elements of demeaning sexism (anti-women’s rights ideologies), racism, and fear-driven exclusivism sometimes crossing the boundary into outright hatred betray the Christianity such demagogues and mega-Church leaders claim to champion. People claiming to be motivated by love of Christ in fact exchange their allegiance to the Prince of Peace and Redeemer of all humanity for that of an imagined national identity which supposedly is rooted in God’s choice of that nation as His last best word as “the new Chosen People” who are destined to shine His light or the “light of liberty” to the rest of the world!
Last time I checked the Book of Books, there was already a Chosen People and they have not been replaced by any other.
Which brings us to the Ghosts of Christmas. Mr. Dickens’ wonderful Christmas story, A Christmas Carol, named three ghosts (spirits) of Christmas – past, present, and future.
First, I understand the futility of seeking to resurrect some past “Spirit of Christmas” as I like to remember it from my childhood and youth.
Second, I will not pretend to have fully and clearly delineated the Spirit of Christmas Present, although I believe my observations above are largely just.
As to the Spirit of Christmas future here in the West, and particularly in Canada, I see two possible paths. The first is that the last whisps of the birth of the Christ-child fade into the category of myth as the radical cultural revisers hope it will. What Christmas would signify would be massively insipid, cloying sentiment about being nice and kind and inclusive for at least a few days in the year, with a portion of romanticized surrealism about the ability of the human leopard to save itself by overcoming the innumerable spots of its general selfish behaviour and its cruelty and unconcern for the well-being of almost everyone else.
Hmm… come to think of it, we have pretty much reached that juncture now. Watch some of the usual entertainment products for this time of year as per Hallmark and Netflix, et al.
It is not wrong to watch “nice” shows and listen to the continual rehashing of Santa, Frosty, White Christmas, Silver Bells, etc. etc. as the “usual suspect” Christmas songs are pumped out in the temples of commerce and mind-numbing emissions across our media. It’s as if we expect to manufacture the appropriate Christmas spirit by shear volume of repetition without mentioning the name of the One the word CHRISTmas points to. As an old friend put it so well some years ago, “We live with what we permit.”
The second possible Christmas future is a miracle that begins with the followers of Jesus. I imagine this remnant as having their eyes opened and hearts quickened to break the spell of the fable about their powerlessness to do anything of any effect in our modern Western Babylon.
Questions abound: How can this happen? What would it require? What would it cost? How would it change lives? What would it mean for relationships – personal, social, financial, and political?
More to come.