“Solving” Christmas in a multi-faith culture

One dreary November evening a small group of parents gathered at the local school to discuss Christmas, because children from many different religions had moved into the neighbourhood, none of whom observed Christmas as a religious holiday.

The school couldn’t ditch Christmas all together because it was still a “must-do” part of the school calendar. Somebody had suggested, therefore, that the name of Christmas be changed so the season could continue but include all the other religions too.

So the parents put their heads together to come up with a new name for Christmas. “How about a name that includes the names of all religions in it?” one parent asked. So they wrote the names of all the religions represented in their neighbourhood on the whiteboard. There were five main groups that they knew of: Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Jews. Since Christians were still the majority, they all agreed that the new name for Christmas should begin with the first three letters of Christianity: CHR.

After much playing around with letters from each of the other religions, one parent shouted, “I know, let’s call it Chrindubuddlimas.”

It had a nice ring to it, they all thought, until the one Jewish parent suddenly sat up and said, “But where is the Jewish religion mentioned?” Oh dear, she was right: Chrindubuddlimas included Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims, but that was only four of the five religions in the neighbourhood represented, and it was sure to cause problems if other Jewish families noticed.

“How about Chruddhamuslindew?” another parent offered. And to her surprise there were nods of agreement. It certainly included all five religions. So they tried attaching “Happy” and “Merry” to it, and shortening it to “Happy Chruddamas” and “Merry Muslindew.” They liked it. It was fully inclusive, and with a bit of practice almost pronounceable.

So it was that the school solved the problem of Christmas in a multi-faith culture. It was nice too, because they could all indulge in the traditional Christmas festivities but have their own religious name attached to them, making the entire season their own holiday as well.

So on that happy note, the parents ended the meeting with a resounding cry of “Happy Chruddhamuslindew,” and even though only two of the twenty parents pronounced it correctly, it felt like a new wave of peace and goodwill had passed through them that dreary November night. Pity, one parent added, about the Scientologist, the Mormon family, three new Jehovah’s Witnesses and a Wiccan lady who’d just moved into the neighbourhood.

But one step at a time. For now Chruddhamuslindew would be the new culture-sensitive Christmas.

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The day the Christmas magic died

For Aunt Harriet, Christmas Day was magic. The happy squeals of the children as they ripped open their presents, the contented sighs of the adults after the Christmas dinner, and the happy family banter through the rest of the day. She looked forward to it for months.

This year, however, had been different. One of her favourite grandsons had married a Muslim who thought Christmas was typical of Western decadence and wanted no part in it. Albert, Harriet’s brother, had discovered how eggnog handily concealed large helpings of rum, and his loud snoring in the corner for most of the day had been embarrassing. The growing young men in the family, meanwhile, had vacuumed up everything edible by 2:00 pm on Christmas Day and disappeared off downstairs for the rest of the day to play video games.

It hadn’t been Christmas like those memorable Christmases of old with the whole family together opening presents, singing carols round the piano, eagerly anticipating the Christmas meal and playing board games together into the evening hours. This year no one had been interested in doing anything together. Some of the family were so tired they slept in ’til Noon. The kids in the family had opened all their presents before breakfast and were bored and irritable by 11:00 am. The much anticipated Christmas meal had been a quiet affair with everybody wolfing down the pile of food in record time, no one coming up with anything interesting to talk about, and the men escaping the clean-up afterwards by “putting on a movie for the kids,” they said. The cat, meanwhile, had swallowed a turkey bone and spent the day under the sofa making dreadful noises trying to cough it up.

All that planning, the anticipation, and the time and money Harriet had spent trying to make Christmas special, and for what, pray tell? Christmas was supposed to be about being together as family, but Harriet overheard two of her children talking about going on vacation over the Christmas break next year to escape the “Chris-mess” as one of them had called it. And was Christmas really “about the kids” anymore when the delight of opening presents had only lasted half an hour, and the toys lay in a heap for the rest of the day, untouched?

The whole day had been a terrible disappointment. The old traditions had grown stale, the younger generations in the family were so different, and the adults needed TV and video games more than each other.

For Harriet it was the day the Christmas magic died.

When Santa came for tea

Dear Uncle George thought it would be a jolly nice idea to invite Santa Claus over for tea. The excitement he imagined in his nephews’ and nieces’ faces when he announced his jolly idea brought tears to his dear old eyes.

It didn’t take much to coax a neighbour to dress up in a rented Santa suit – a dusty bottle of whisky long forgotten in the broom cupboard did the trick – and soon the great day came. The crowd that gathered in Uncle George’s living room was a sight to make the heart soar. It was crammed with sparkly-eyed children, tanked up for years by their parents and other assorted relatives on the God-like aura of Santa. And dear old Uncle George was ready with a song too, cranked up to ear-piercing volume on his neighbour’s new stereo system, borrowed in exchange for another bottle of whisky he’d discovered in the toilet tank.

With perfect timing, Uncle George pressed the Play button, and in strode Santa Claus with a hearty “Ho, ho, ho” and a scattering of dust from his fake beard, which made him cough. The song was “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and as Santa circled the room, beaming at each child in turn, it was like Santa himself singing the words of the song: “He’s making a list; he’s checking it twice; he’s going to find out who’s naughty and nice; Santa Claus is coming to town.”

Some of the children stopped smiling, and one little girl’s bottom lip began to tremble. Her mother elbowed Santa aside, punched the Stop button and rushed to her daughter’s side. “It’s all right dear, it’s just a song, Santa’s not really like that.”

The little girl sniffed a snorty sniff and said, “But Mommy, you said yourself that Santa wouldn’t bring me any presents if I was naughty. You said it yesterday when I was screaming and throwing things in the toy store.”

“Well, yes, that’s right, dear,” her Mother replied, “but all Mommies do that at Christmas-time to get their children to behave. It’s tradition.”

Santa in the rented suit laid a gentle hand on the girl’s shoulder and spluttered through the dust, “Yes, my dear, Mommy and me (cough) are only doing what religion’s been doing for centuries (hack). Threats have been jolly useful in getting lots of naughty adults to behave too. You’ll be using threats on your own kids too one day, so cheer up kiddo (cough and splutter), you’ve cottoned on to the secret of fear religion and stressed-out parenting all in one go.” Santa tried another “Ho, ho, ho” but turned purple with coughing instead.

“How jolly this all is, isn’t it?!” cried Uncle George as he pressed the Play button to finish the song.

“I’m sorry, I can’t do Christmas anymore”

Ripples of horror shook through the family when Aunt Jane suddenly announced by email last week, “I’m sorry everyone, I just can’t do Christmas anymore.”

Her sister, Bertha, the alpha female in the family and the organizer of ‘The Family Christmas’ every year, struck back with the speed of a viper who’d just been trodden on. “Whaddya mean you can’t do Christmas?” she yelled over the phone, “we’ve always done Christmas, Jane, and I’ve got you making the Christmas cake this year so you’d better come through, sis, or you’re horsemeat.”

Jane sighed. So much for the spirit of Christmas. Every year it was the same, though. Somewhere around the middle of August, her sister became General Patton, issuing commands to the entire family as to what they’d all be doing for ‘The Family Christmas’, and woe betide anyone who didn’t follow orders.

The result was always the same too. Those who loved the rush of baking up enough goodies to feed a Third World country for a week, who loved the hustle and bustle of buying gifts, booze and candy, and loved decorating the house and the Christmas tree with lights and other paraphernalia, launched into action like a highly-trained army. But then there were the slackers in the family, those who couldn’t stand the whole sickly mess of trying to be extra nice and having to go to all this work and expense for just one day, who always messed things up by leaving gift-buying to the last possible minute and forgetting to bring the potatoes for the potato salad.

So there were always spats, and sometimes the hints of outright war between those who loved The Family Christmas and those who hated it. But for Aunt Jane there was something else. The Family Christmas wasn’t anything like the birth of Christ. His birth was peaceful for a start. No alpha-female screaming orders, no raucous booze laughter, no kids ripping paper off gifts they didn’t need – in fact, none of the din and frantic self-indulgence so typically associated with Christmas.

That lovely picture of peace and serenity at Jesus’ birth began to grow in her mind. She compared it to the high-intensity guilt-trip her sister wanted Christmas to be every year, and there was simply no comparison. So she wrote to the family saying, “Sorry for bowing out of Christmas this year but if anyone wants to join me on Christmas Day for a quiet chat and a snooze, you’re more than welcome.”

So long as not too many of them turn up, she thought.

Not another Sappy Christmas

Uncle Harry, sick and tired of the sentiment and goo of Christmas being used to sell products, designed his own Christmas card to send to the long list of names on his Christmas card list. On the front of the card it said, “Not another Sappy Christmas.” And on the inside he wrote, “Fed up with the con-trick yet? I am. Regards, Harry.”

It was risky, yes, and potentially disastrous for all those useful connections he’d carefully cultivated by sending Christmas cards to people every year, but it was time he was honest. Because for years he’d bristled and fumed as the Christmas machine mowed down all before it as soon as Halloween was over, and out rolled all the usual sappy heart-string ticklers cleverly designed to make zombies of people so they headed to the stores to buy, buy, buy.

He’d been conned by it all too, of course. But obligation had always ruled, so every year he’d been politically correct and done his bit. He’d sent his Christmas cards, bought gifts, travelled in horrible weather to the required family Christmas, said “Merry Christmas” to everyone who’d said it to him, and attended all the awful Christmas parties he was invited to. He’d done his very best to get into the spirit of things and be jovial.

But one day, while looking in a store window trying to figure out what on earth he was going to buy for his four nephews and five nieces who already had every gift they could ever need or want, he saw the reflection of his face in the window perfectly superimposed on the face of a Santa Claus in the store display. The plastic Santa was looking straight at him, with a smile that made Harry shudder. It was a knowing smile that said, “You know, don’t you, Harry? You’ve known ever since your Dad owned up to being Santa Claus that I’m not real. And you know I’m still a contrived fake created by people to make money, right?  So why are you out there shivering like a frozen monkey thinking you’re doing something noble by buying things for people, when you know all this Christmas sappiness is just a ploy to sell stuff?”

“But,” Harry cried, “Can you imagine what will happen if I tell my friends and family what I really think about Christmas?” But Santa just smiled, a mocking smile that said, “So keep on playing the game for another year, Harry. Be a sap like all the other Harrys out there and keep the con-trick going.” And that’s what did it for Harry. No more dishonesty, he said to himself. The spell had been broken.