Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

Christmas is here! Yay! But what about other religious holidays?

Canada may be a multicultural nation, but its public holidays include celebrations for just one religon, writes Prajwala Dixit.

No public holidays are designated to any other cultural and religious celebrations

Each year, a large tree is lit with Christmas lights outside Confederation Building in St. John's. (CBC)

An air of celebration fills the entire month of December. A blanket of red, white and green covers St. John's.

Massive lush green trees, decked with twinkling lights, decorate not just homes but also our Confederation Building — not to mention the Centre Block on Parliament Hill. 

In the loud din of Christmas, we, sadly, forget to credit Hannukah, Yalda and Kwanzaa for the warmth and cheer they add to this season.

Today, as we bask in the glory of our diversity and multicultural roots, it's important to understand that in the early 20th century, immigration from western European Caucasian countries was favoured, subjecting many visible and ethnic minority immigrants — including those of Jewish, African, Indian, Japanese and Chinese descent — to unfair taxation. 

It was only in 1967 that a merit-based system was implemented that addressed the prejudiced core surrounding immigration to Canada. With this, we heralded a new era by recognizing multiculturalism and imprinting it in the Canadian identity.

But as special Christmas deals chock-a-block stores and Dean Martin's Let It Snow echoes through restaurants, one can't help but wonder if we have truly embraced cultural diversity. Was multiculturalism merely a strategy to combat the Quebec separatist movement, the need for skilled labour and population decline? 

Does accommodating imply acceptance? 

Despite the existence of visible minority, foreign-born and immigrant populations in Canada for over a century and their (seemingly) rapid increase in numbers in Canada and in Newfoundland and Labrador, the current socio-cultural climate fails to reflect the needs of the changing demographic, especially in the realm of recognizing, designating and celebrating religious and cultural holidays. 

Currently — and without counting Boxing Day — nearly 30 per cent of federal government holidays and nearly 36 per cent of provincial government holidays are Christian, allowing the time to enjoy taking a picture with Santa, decorating gingerbread cookies with our children or attending Christmas mass without having to worry about work or school. 

No other public holidays are designated to any other cultural and religious celebrations provincially or federally. 

Some holiday decorations aim to offer multicultural greetings. (Kamran Aslam)

Keeping in line with the Canadian Human Rights Commission's duty to accommodate — which enables an employee to participate fully at the workplace without causing the employer undue hardship — many workplaces "accommodate" an employee's request by allowing the day off either by dipping into a vacation day, working overtime, changing schedules, taking a holiday in lieu of and/or incurring loss of pay in order to celebrate their religious and cultural holiday. 

However, for many cross-cultural families that love Santa as much as staying up on Yalda night, or that wait as eagerly for the Easter Bunny as they do for Diwali, this poses a major problem.

It robs their ability to embrace and accept — equally — facets of their culture, religion and identity. 

These Canadian citizens and families take as much pride in Thanksgiving and Canada Day as they do in celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Eid, feeling emotionally ripped when they are asked to take a holiday in lieu of another Canadian holiday. 

While the controversial decision by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario on Markovic v. Autocom Manufacturing Ltd. deems it otherwise, genuine support for multiculturalism and a pluralistic society will exist when there is designated paid time off for major religious, cultural and ethnic holidays without an employee feeling like they burden their employer to "accommodate" their need. 

Implausible? Not necessarily 

This isn't as implausible as it may seem. 

Many countries like IndiaSingapore and Malaysia have accepted their diversity and designated public holidays to a variety of religious and cultural celebrations, thereby, creating a pluralistic environment that is culturally rich and varied.

When a country recognizes, designates and celebrates all religious and cultural holidays with equal gusto, it creates a chance for its citizens — young and old — to experience and celebrate a new culture and tradition. 

It bestows, in visible and ethnic minority children, a sense of pride and belonging. And, it allows for the preservation of ancient traditions.

So, this Dec. 25 (as presents, family and good food fill our hearts and bellies) let us take a moment to realize the privilege of Christmas being recognized, designated and celebrated as a public holiday, within and by St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Canada, because other celebrations — like Eid, Yalda, Hannukah, Diwali, Vesak, Lohri, Chinese New Year and Indigenous holidays — are not. 

About the Author

Prajwala Dixit


Prajwala Dixit is a freelance journalist, columnist, playwright and writer in St. John's.