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Wilf Popoff

Wasted Words: The Rebound of Christmas

Illustration of red and green holiday ornaments, each with a picture of holly, hanging against a blue background with white polka dots.
Christmas baubles hanging with holly berry decoration
Malgorzata Slusarczyk ©

Have you noticed how Christmas is sneaking back into respectability? Three decades ago school Christmas concerts and office Christmas parties began to disappear in apparent deference to multiculturalism. Even the word for this feast was proscribed. I promptly fell into line.

Everyone should feel welcome, and I acknowledged that Christianity’s celebration of the winter solstice and the birth of its namesake was patently exclusionary, not only for Canadians who are not Christian and never have been but for the many more who identify as former Christians.

I purged Merry Christmas from my vocabulary and switched to Compliments of the Season for clients, Have a Cool Yule for friends and Happy Holidays for everyone else. Perhaps I went too far. The eclipse of Christmas as a festive event and a seasonal greeting certainly has stalled; in fact, it may have gone into reverse.

For the past two months our mailbox has been stuffed with catalogues and flyers, half embracing a holiday theme, the rest boldly exalting Christmas. Stores similarly equivocate. Even a Christmas symbol is caught in the crossfire: a block from our house a parking lot vendor offers Christmas trees while a kilometre away identical conifers are sold as holiday trees.

Wishing a clerk “Happy Holidays” usually elicits “Same to you,” but often it’s “Merry Christmas.” I have no idea whether the person’s religion, if any, is responsible for these different responses. But I was bemused when a young clerk wearing a hijab smiled and replied “Merry Christmas” to my facile greeting.

So what’s been happening to Christmas over the last 30 years? It’s a tangled tale.

The most significant development is that ever more of us regard it as a secular holiday, similar to Canada Day but with gifts. Remember that Valentine’s Day and Saint Patrick’s Day celebrate Christian saints, and even Halloween was originally All Hallows’ Eve, the day before All Saints’ Day.

Christmas has been swept into their profane vortex. So no matter how sympathetic one is to the idea of multiculturalism, observing Christmas is no longer deemed offensive.

Businesses may also be sympathetic, but they’re concerned about survival. Usually half their annual profits are realized in December. Many have discovered that sales are better when they embrace the Christmas theme.

Now what about the young woman in the hijab? Actually, nobody ever asked for a ban on Christmas. People of other faiths realize that to attain reciprocity they need to honour Christian ritual.

A few years ago Imam Mohamad Jebra of Ottawa told a reporter that Muslims are taught to respect how others express their faith. “We aren’t embarrassed about our holidays, the Jews aren’t embarrassed about Hanukkah, and Hindus aren’t embarrassed about Diwali,” he said.

So who, then, initiated the vilification of Christmas? It was the descendants of European Christians in a laudable attempt to appear more accommodating or, as some argue, out of a sense of guilt.

Given these developments, I feel it safe to wish all of you Merry Christmas.


Previous post from Wilf Popoff: Wasted Words: Sows’ Ears as Silk Purses.

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4 Comments on “Wasted Words: The Rebound of Christmas”

  • Wrote a long, impassioned, eloquent, pursasive response–which was then discarded by WordPress with the error message that responses have to be under 2000 characters. It might have been nice if that rule were posted directly under “leave a reply” and just above “your email address will not be published”, rather than wait to tell me until after I spent 20 minutes polishing a mini essay.


    (No reflection on Wilf, of course)

  • Okay then, short version: I am suspicious that the trend towards the reinstatement of “Merry Christmas” may represent more than merely the swing back from the obvious over-reaction noted by Wilf to what we might consider a more reasonable balance, when the timing corresponds to an upsurge in intolerance. Since the onset of the era of Drumph in 2016, many people who were previously cautious about expressing their racist, homophobic, misogynic, etc views now feel empowered to say those things aloud. I most assuredly am not accusing Wilf of being associated with any of that, but merely wish to suggest that one be aware of what might be the sociological underpinnings of this trend back to explicit promotion of “Christmas”…and the advantage certain factions might take of this innocent trend to push a more aggressive and intolerant agenda.

    And I promise you, that was way more eloquent and persuasive at 2200 characters… 🙂

  • Merry Christmas, Wilf. Thanks for reflecting on this decade’s shift(s) in seasonal greetings.

    Like you, I have noticed a subtle adjustment this year, a change in tone, style, or attitude, as well as content, among customers and clerks alike. I would characterize it as relief that we have all come to our senses and agreed to accept the good intentions behind seasonal greetings of all sorts: polite, generic good wishes. No offence should be taken because none is intended in any such casual social observances. Or lack of them.

    Some of us still have work to do, of course. My inner editor still indulges a little rant at greetings that are stripped of meaning and intent. “Season’s Greetings” is full of emptiness; non-engaging nonsense. I’m trying to let it go!

    • CynOptix


      Nicely expressed Virginia. “Merry Christmas” to you, and to Wilf.

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