UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

It's a holly, jolly time, but is it Christmas?

By Muriel Duncan

The newspaper headline caught my attention: "The politically correct office party: No mention of Christmas at holiday bash." It seems the director of catering at Toronto's Four Seasons Hotel is overseeing posh but generic office parties this season to reflect the diversity of the city's workplaces. The festivities are being referred to as year-end parties, rewards for a year of hard work.

So is this bad news or good news for Christians?

After years of complaining that society is commercializing our sacred celebration of Christ's birth, after years of trying to avoid being sucked into the secular spend-fest, the church finds society doesn't want to stand too close to us anymore.

This should give us the separation we always wanted.

Then why does it feel a bit like being jilted by an unwanted suitor? We wanted to be the first to say goodbye.

It is doubly confusing because secular society is giving us a lingering farewell, not a clear brush-off. After all, the word "Christmas" and Christian symbols aren't disappearing everywhere. But we have heard for some time about schools dropping the annual Christmas concert to be more inclusive of other faiths. And it is harder each year to get Christmas cards that actually say "Merry Christmas" or anything vaguely religious.

At the same time, the buy-now-pay-later Christmas pressure still surrounds us. And in our quiet way, we rage against it. Well, some of us aren't so quiet. In Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario Conference last year, some United Church folks got involved in a Mennonite initiative, a Buy Nothing Christmas. A group of young and older activists took their beliefs into Winnipeg malls and big-box stores, singing anti-consumerism, "buy nothing" carols. They were kicked out repeatedly but got noticed city-wide.

Christmas has been captive of the economy for so long that it is difficult for believers separate out who we are and how we should express the love the baby represents. We are part of a society that takes in the baby born in a manger but buys gifts of iPods or PlayStations to mark the occasion. We may do that too but we have the side effect of guilt. Isn't it good to give? Is the problem only in the size of the gift?

And now a society that once was Christian is easing us out of the "holiday." We want commerce to stop abusing our holy days but we don't actually want Christ's birthday ignored.

No wonder we're confused. This is tricky terrain.

It might help to locate our United Church identity as we move through this territory. For instance, we are a social justice church, so we do go out into the secular world. We are a uniting church, so we will work with other faiths wherever we find common ground. We want other faiths to have the right to their holy days and festivals and I suspect they want us to have ours. We are a church that listens for new word from God and will change accordingly.

In this secular climate, we can work on our boundaries. What part of this season is of God and what is of the world? For us, Christmas isn't a year-end party to recognize our hard work; it's a time to honour a holy story of love and hope and peace. Once we stand with the story, it will be easier to take back Christmas.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image