What does Christmas mean to you in a multicultural Canada?


Christmas in Canada: According to a new poll most Canadians celebrate Christmas in some way. What are your holiday traditions? And in a multi-cultural Canada what does Christmas mean to you?

Join guest host Reg Sherren, Sunday on Cross Country Checkup.


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So, how are you spending this day before the day before Christmas? Are you in your car, muttering to yourself about "gotta get that last gift" strategy. Perhaps you are in the kitchen whipping up a batch of Christmas treats, or hiding down in the workshop hoping to avoid a long list of "honey we need to's" waiting upstairs.

Maybe you've had enough of Christmas and what its become...endless advertising beginning, this year, even before haloween..or maybe it's a chance to reconnect with old friends, and distant relatives.

In the past few weeks I had the great pleasure of getting a glimpse of Christmas through the eyes of people from 27 different countries...there were Hindus, and Muslims and Christians, all singing together in a refugee Christmas Choir...down in Newfoundland., as my good friend Enas, from Iraq...herself Muslim.. said, "of course we celebrate Christmas..we have many Christian friends, and this is as much about friendship and community as anything."

So our question today, how do you celebrate Christmas in multi-cultural Canada?

Christmas traditions aren't really changing that much over the years according to a new survey, even as immigrations numbers increase. Abacas Data spoke with over 15 hundred Canadians. Over 13 hundred said they planned to observe Christmas, 41% said they celebrate it as a religious holiday, with 50% celebrating it as a secular holiday and 9% unsure.

So, for some, it is a spiritual season culminating in a holy day - the origin of the word holiday.

Our topic: In a country as diverse as Canada - how do you celebrate at Christmas time?

I'm Reg Sherren ...On CBC Radio One and on Sirius Satellite Radio channel 159 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.





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I'm a new Canadian. Iimmigrated from the States 2 years ago. My family imported our Celtic and psuedo-Druidical traditions with us when we came. We make a conscious decision to wrest Yule out of the hands of the usurpers who stole our holiday and loaded it up with religious mythology that does not pertain to us. So, we only do the parts of the holiday that pre-date the Christian usurpation - we decorate the house with evergreens and holly, put up wreaths and a tree and exchange gifts and cards and eat special food. 

In our household, the main part of the holiday is solstice when we have a big bonfire based upon Last Year's Xmas Tree - all toasty brown and ripe for burning. Depending on the calendar, we might do the bonfire on solstice itself, Christmas eve or Christmas Night - the schedule is just a matter of convenience. We stand around the bonfire in a circle and toss in barley cakes, taking a moment to isolate something in our minds from the previous year we would like to burn up in the fire and not take with us into the new year. 

One barley cake has a penny in it. The lucky recipient of that cake gets to open a present first. We have wassail and sing the Old Songs around the fire - trying as much as possible to restore the old lyrics to their pre-Christian form, to the lyrics before they were co-apted. We often libate a fruit tree yard with wassail, but sometimes we do this the next day with the leftover wassail. That's how we celebrate the long night in this post-Christian household!

Holly Guinan
British Columbia.


In Canada Christmas comes when the days are shortest and the nights darkest. People living in our technologically sophisticated society no longer believe the Sun god must be cajoled northward to warm the bridal bed for Spring. Sacrificial blood rituals have been replaced with factory-processed, cellophane-wrapped turkeys. But the time-honoured traditions of feasting and drinking continue to be enjoyed and some folks even make time for a little lustful debauchery. Canadian families have the freedom to celebrate events associated with the winter solstice in whatever manner they choose. Families in war-ravaged Syria do not.

Countless images of death and destruction have desensitized most of us to the point we barely notice their insidious little teeth gnawing away at our souls. But a single image of violence has the potential to burrow itself into a child's mind and spawn monsters with teeth large enough to tear down bedroom walls in the middle of the night.
Hope is rooted in the knowledge that there is not enough darkness in the whole world to obscure the flickering light of a single candle. Love ignites the spark of hope and love sustains the flame.
May your New Year be filled with love peace tolerance and joy. And by all means have a Merry Christmas.

Lloyd Atkins,
Vernon, British Columbia


As I do not have any formal religious affiliations, I do the following:
1) Feed the winter birds in my backyard.
2) Bring prayers and hopes to those who need them like Chief Theresa Spence on Victoria Island and those who are sick, sad or living in bad situations.
3) Donate money and support for the local food bank.
4) Purchase as little as possible, staying away from commercial features of our current Christmas season.  I don't have television.
Jim Elliott,


Several years ago our grown children decided that they were tired of turkey for Christmas dinner so each year after that, we have chosen food from a different ethnic group upon which to base the meal. I like to cook and have some experience with ethnic foods so we have done a mixed Japanese/Korean meal, an Indian meal, Mexican, Greek and this year is Italian. The fun thing that has happened is that our dinner guests seem to increase each year, from our initial 4 (us and our two grown children) the count has increased to 10 - some from other countries, and now, through their own initiative, each contributes something to the meal. It is truly a joyous and fun time with wonderful food and friends and family that make it especially good. We wouldn't change this tradition now. It is our way to celebrate Christmas.

Barbara McLean,
Chester Grant, Nova Scotia.


With today's economy, why are we still behaving like idiots by running up the credit cards and the electricity bills in order to celebrate?  Every year I do less and less and would like to have a Xmas where I only buy gifts for my children. I would much rather spend the time, effort and money on a birthday gift instead of the harassment of buying a variety of people a variety of gifts on one particular day.  As you can tell, I'm not religious.

Lorelie Weir,
Alliston, Ontario.


I'm listening to your show as I finish packing my suitcase for my trip to Vancouver tonight to spend my first Christmas with my boyfriend's family. I'm Jewish and usually by this time of year I'm thoroughly sick of listening to carols and endless commercials to buy buy buy. Normally we have a family dinner on Christmas day because it's convenient with everyone off of work and school and everything closed. We might see a movie or get together with other Jewish friends.

This year I see it in a completely different light. I spent weeks of planning and shopping for gifts for my boyfriend's family. It felt so good to be shopping, busy, excited instead of avoiding stores and crowds. I'm a bit nervous to be meeting so many new people but I can't tell you how excited and happy I am to be a part of it this year. I've resolved to make Christmas a real celebration for my family in future years. It's much more fun to be a part of it than to be an outsider looking in.
Merry Christmas!
Toronto, Ontario



It is a beautiful and cold day here in Banff in the Rockies. Fresh snow on the trees and even blue sky with some snowy clouds - the most romantic time and place to be for Christmas. I have immigrated from Switzerland 20 years ago to this beautiful country. Yes, we do still light real candles on the xmas trees back home and some families have close calls. We celebrate on Christmas Eve traditionally, having my own Canadian Family now, it is on the 25 and yes, we have not real candles, but we like to go in the forest at night and add those real candles on a tree, sing Christmas songs and lighten up our children's Eyes. I have taken on many Canadian traditions and even love the big Turkey meal now.

What a great Country to live in, to celebrate Christmas in. God bless.

Felix Pfister,
Banff, Alberta.



Last November I left the comfort of my home town Orangeville Ontario for Carmanville Newfoundland. My first Christmas without family was hard but then I think..Christmas is about the family and friends we have, the kindness of others and the memories. It has become commercialized and it is not about the basics anymore. It doesn't matter where you're from or where you currently are. It's about family. Some may not believe in Christmas but we all believe in family. Thank you for your time.
Merry Christmas

Carly Smith,
Carmanville, Newfoundland


French Canadian Holidays are the best. It's all about family. It's also all about giving and not receiving, which has been mentioned by previous callers. Of course the midnight mass is a must and then abundance of food. I love tourtiere!

However, I  fear and flee all holiday music. There is an exception - The Rigodons (I think the English term would be a reel or jig). It is a mix of Irish fiddles with a twist of Quebecois...

I'm celebrating this year by volunteering at the community holiday supper tomorrow night.

Happy holidays to all from Quebec city.

Jeffrey Kelso,
Quebec City, Canada.



Today I'm making a family Xmas bread recipe that dates from before 1900, from the outport of Petites, Newfoundland. My grandmother and grandfather,Julia and Charles Courtney, brought their 11 offspring and the recipe to Toronto in about 1920, and our family has been working on variations on the theme since then.

The original was in non-standard measure, e.g., a pinch, a dash etc. and Julia made it every year in Toronto, mostly from memory. Several in the larger family have variations on the recipe, but I use my father William's well-tested formula, and this year I'm using west coast dried cranberries to give it a more local flavour. I also soak the dried fruit overnight in rum and port to add a slightly more "adult" flavour. For political reasons, my father refused to use Crosby Molasses...My cousins in Oregon have also carried on the tradition and 'cousin Tommy' came up with a bread machine variation

I moved to the "wet coast' in 1974, and am now "offshore" on Bowen Island, adjacent to West Vancouver, BC. My eldest daughter, Julia, in Vancouver, has taken an interest in the recipe and recently told me that her research indicates that it is likely based on an old tinned product called Boston Brown bread, which makes sense.  My grandfather Charles ran the outport store and traded salt cod south to Boston in exchange for dry goods, molasses and staples for the outport with his schooner - the "Mabel".  My memories are powerful of the smell of this baking, even though to a young palette, the caraway taste was a bit unusual. Now my 4 children are happy consumers of this, usually in muffin form, and I know that  our family "Newfie bread" tradition carries on well into the 21st century. I'm kneading it out in  a minute to get the rise going and must cut my story short.

Peter Courtney,
Bowen Island, British Columbia.



The sun is the lowest in the sky and the days are short. After the full moon we celebrate the coming of the light, opening our home to friends and family. We bring green into the house, eat drink and be merry. To  me the soltice is happy time, if I make it to the winter solstice I can make it through the winter which is long and cold in Edmonton.

Happy solstice to all the pagans out there.
Concetta Carbonaro,
Edmonton, Alberta.


As a single dad, I only get to spend Dec 25th with my daughter every other year and so Christmas Day for us is whatever day we spend together opening gifts. For example, this year Christmas Day is the 27th and 2 years ago, it was the 23rd. Friends feel sad when they find out I'm alone on Christmas Day, but I tell them I'm not. Every other year, the 25th is just another day. Celebrating the joy of family, the peace and goodwill, are not locked into one day for us.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

James Park,
Regina, Saskatchewan.



Having grown up in Germany during the war and occupation, my Christmas memories are not really fun. Consequently, I try to keep smiling and laughing at this time of the year. Here is a little to share and grin.

I was always puzzled by KrisKringle, that guy in a funny red suit, false white beard, and alcohol on his breath. The Nazi used to call him "Weihnachtsmann" and promoted him to suppress the Christian aspect of the season. Then, in the 1980s, a Swiss lady at the university of California finally cleared this for me.  The term is from the South German "Christkindel", i.e Baby Jesus. I have not stopped laughing ever since that ray of enlightenment hit me square in the mug.

Also, the Christmas tree predates the christianization of Germany. It was the symbol of hope for the ancient Germans, put up at  Winter Solstice. The ever green meant that though the leaves have fallen and all appears dead, a new Spring will come and with it, new life. One does not need to be religious to appreciate that.

Have fun, hug your spouse, kids, and friends.

Frank A. Lojewski,
Sointula, British Columbia.


For years we celebrated Christmas Eve in a very specific Chinese restaurant in downtown San Francisco. We are Canadians and moved to California in the early 1990s to work in the high tech industry. There are many Canadians there doing the same and we were we welcomed with open arms especially during the holiday season when we were all away from family.  

Christmas dinner for 40 people was not unusual. One of the families that we were close to lost their father (suicide) and of course Christmas was always tough. So we gathered up that family and spend it at the aforementioned restaurant. The tradition carried on for years. After our family returned to Canada, our friends carried on the tradition with another family that need similar emotional support and friendship.  Give it forward. 

Richard Favro,
Kelowna, British Columbia.


There is a fundamental problem with any perspective on cross cultural celebrations at this time of year. If it was called winter solstice, no one (except Christians) could have any problem. I, as a non-Christian, refuse to celebrate Christmas because it is a celebration of a Mass at this time of the year in honour of Christ (i.e., Messiah) Jesus (Jeshua ben Yussef)  is not my messiah.  Why should I celebrate? 

As I said, change it to a celebration of the winter solstice and I would most willingly join in the celebration. And, I truly do not think that this is a 'grinch' statement.

Gerald Halpern,
Ottawa, Ontario.



My husband and I are both children of Dutch immigrants. With our children, now ages 8 and 10, we celebrate "Sinterklaas" (St. Nicholas Day) on the evening of December 5th. We put outside of the door a large pair of "klompen" (wooden shoes) with some hay and carrots for Sinterklaas' horse. We stand at the open door and sing a traditional Dutch song to call Sinterklaas and ask him to put something into our shoes. 
While we we wait, we exchange gifts; one gift from each of us to each other. Then we go out and check the shoes and surprise(!) the shoes are emptied of the hay and carrots (which the horse ate, of course) and filled with small treats like chocolate coins, mandrins and other candy.
We were glad that we are never visited by Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), who looks for the naughty children, because, of course we don't have any naughty children at our house!
On Christmas eve and day we attend Christian services and celebrate the birth of Christ. We are happy to have Christmas not associated with gift giving, and just focus on Christ. Our gift giving is very separate from the Christmas celebration.
Abbotsford, British Columbia.


One of your earlier callers reminded me of a tradition we had in our home when I was a child. My sister and I would wake up in the middle of the night when we felt with our toes a stocking at the end of the bed. One of us would rush to the other's room and we would compare our gifts from Santa. Always there was a chocolate orange, a tangerine and nuts at the bottom of the stocking. 

Eventually we would fall back asleep to wake on Christmas morning to see all the presents under the tree. Instead of rushing to open them, however, my father would have us first eat a big breakfast (despite having already eaten all the nuts and chocolates from our stocking) and then we would listen to the Queen. If I am notmistaken, I think he even had us stand for God Save the Queen. I don't insist everyone listen to the Queen in my family now, but my father still does and comes for Christmas dinner to tell us of all the highlights of her speech.

Jennifer Allen,
Niagara on the Lake, Ontario.

Several callers this afternoon - the woman who emigrated from Pakistan, the lady of Jewish heritage who crafted Christmas for her extended family, and others highlight the opportunities we as Canadians are missing. "Multi cultural" to me does not mean washing out or diluting our Christmas traditions. It means adding the celebration of the holidays of other cultures who now make up our mosaic. The more, the merrier. Perhaps there is a challenge to sort out - but where there is a will, there is a way. It is a perfect learning opportunity and a way to make newcomers feel welcome. Recognizing the importance of all of our cultures would go a long way to creating mutual respect and understanding.

Tarry Hewitt,
Montague, Prince Edward island.


I am from Denmark and we take Christmas very seriously.

The difference for me is that aside from marking the Advent season, I do nothing till December 23rd. As you can imagine I am going completely crazy today, making "Leverpostej" red cabbage, stuffing for the turkey, shining up candle-sticks, pinning up little Danish Christmas elves and generally creating what we Danes call "hygge" which translates to coziness.

We will celebrate on Christmas Eve, alas no live candles on the tree this year, with the grand kids who live in in town and on Christmas Day after going to Mass we will have a lunch spread that you would call Smorgasbord, drinking the NORD GULD Akvavit sent to us from my cousin Hans Christian. We will toast my late father Erik Brorup, a gentleman & soldier, eating and drinking through the afternoon.

Happy Christmas to all,

Marianne Brorup Weston
Terrace, British Columbia.


I was born in Cape Breton and raised in Antigonish County on the northeastern mainland of Nova Scotia. I presently live in the Halifax Regional Municipality. Gaelic continues to be part of the linguistic and cultural influences found in our region. 

In my own family tradition, we would typically put our Christmas tree up on Christmas Eve and take it down on January 6th (An Nollaig Bheag or "Little Christmas")  Christmas Eve was a special time where our family would attend midnight mass and then share food afterwards, usually sweets. On Christmas morning presents would be opened and then a noonish Christmas turkey dinner would be shared. The rest of the day was reserved for visting neighbours. 

One of the traditions that was part of Gaelic culture in Nova Scotia was Oidhche Challainn (New Year's Eve). On New Year's Eve, young men would go out with switches - I have heard that traditionally they used shinty sticks - following one of their number who was wrapped up in an animal hide. As the youth walked along, they would beat the animal hide with their switches making a drumming sound. As they approached a house, they would also beat the sides of the house, going round the house three times in a clockwise direction. After completing this, they would go to the door of the house and be required to recite a 'duan' a 'rhyme' to the fear/ban an taighe (man/woman of the house) before being let in. Upon being let in they would receive food and drink and then carry on to the next house. This custom was originally enacted to drive out evil spirits, ensuring a good New Year. Today, in the spirit of fun, bringing people together and sharing Gaelic language and culture, members of the Nova Scotia Gaelic Community re-enact this custom on New Year's Eve.

Lewis MacKinnon,
Middle Sackville, Nova Scotia.


Christmas is symbolic to me. I grew up in a Christian environment but Christmas to me is all about light in the dark. Hope for the sun to return and life to renew itself. It is about birth in the midst of death. I love Christmas trees and all the lights that people light up at this time of year as they are not only beautiful but, for me, they represent life and light in the time of darkness and winter death.

Christmas is a celebration of the best things in life, the joys, loves, the things and moments that are exhilarating in live.

Merry Christmas

Mindy Wiltshire Gibson,
Newmarket, Ontario.



A Filipino twist to your guest's thoroughly western symbolisms of Christmas is the pig.No Christmas is truly visually complete in the Filipino celebration of Christmas without the roasted pig at the table.

We have the tree, the lights, the Chinese-Spanish cuisine and then the roasted pig: flaming red, crispy, mouth-watering full size pig, the bigger the better. Wash it down with the world famous San Miguel beer and you have truly tasted Christmas.

The message of faith, hope and love is best celebrated in a Filipino home with all members of the family- youngest to oldest, and everyone having a piece of the roasted pig.

Pig and peace intersect during Christmas in every Filpino home.

Siegfredo Bercasio,
Surrey, British Columbia.


As a cross-pollinated Swedish -Ukranian, our celebrations were, of course, smorgasbord on Christmas Eve, and turkey with cabbage rolls and perogies on Christmas Day. As a young, and in love, 19yr. old, my sweetheart invited me to his family Christmas dinner on Christmas Day. I was so excited.

I was very nervous, however, amongst people with whom I shared no history, so I felt very alone at the dinner, even though it was very nice. When I arrived home, my Mother asked me if I had had a good time. I burst into tears. Not only had I missed my own family, I told her, but also they didn't even have pickled herring or cabbage rolls.

Gail Mackay,
Victoria, British Columbia.


I came to Canada in 1960 and took to the X-mas spirit of celebrating. I am a Hindu by birth and I still practice my religion. I  never had a x-mas until I came to Canada. My children were born here and quite successively integrated into Canadian Society and are truly proud Canadians. My late husband and myself started the tradition by going to the farm and bringing the fresh x-mas tree and have them decorate it to there heart content. We do  our x-mas shopping, wrap them when they go to bed, except the second daughter, who would always snoop around to find them.
Santa brought plenty of gifts but no Turkey of course.....We are strictly vegetarians. We always have maintained that and children didn't care. On that day, our English friends would always invite us for x-mas dinner. I brought an curried dish which every guest enjoyed. We exchanged gifts and sang x-mas carols and enjoyed everything. 

Now, the children are married adults and scattered around the country and  married into white culture. Now, they all congregate in my condo for x-mas and boxing day. This year my first daughter and her husband will spend x-mas with his family in Victoria and they will join us on my birthday on 29th.I still cook Indian dinner and also go to various restaurants. The gifts now have taken different trend. Nobody wants anything but they all collect money to donate it to a charity,
This our x-mas.

Merry christmas and a happy new year to you all.
Sheela Dhanvantari.


I teach English as a Second Language to adult immigrants and refugees who are anxious to join in our traditions and to be invited to our tables. Sadly, the concept of not offending anyone and excluding Christmas in many circles has created a backlash against our newcomers and misinformed Canadians often blame them for taking away our Christmas.

I received special Christmas gifts and cards from my Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist students. Some of them will be joining me for Christmas dinner.

Annette Losier,
Cambridge, Ontario.

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