Is the Christmas Statuary Holiday Racist?

Over the last week, a curious debate arose in the House of Commons over whether or not Canada’s choice to have Christmas listed as a statuary holiday is discriminatory, whilst non-Christian religious events are not given the same federal status.

Given the ongoing wars in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and so many other important issues like health care reform and the cost-of-living crisis, it seems relatively unimportant to discuss the holidays. However, the topic caught my attention because it unwillingly transported my mind back in time to the 2010s. The nonsensical argument is reminiscent of the “War on Christmas” in America –a right-wing talking point of Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, who in 2013 began a ridiculous crusade against what he perceived to be injustice by Obama’s Democratic administration, whom he accused of attacking Christian holidays & values in concert with the left-wing news media. This became a cultural phenomenon in conservative America that slowly fizzled out as the Obama administration ended its second term and a Republican administration took over (which would presumably be more pro-Christian). 

What renewed this debate (now in Canada) was that the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) released a paper claiming that Christmas, being the lone religious stat holiday in December (in a month containing many other religious events, including Hanukkah and Kwanzaa), was the manifestation of  “systemic religious discrimination.” Moreover, the paper claims that because the Christian holidays of Easter and Christmas give everyone a day off, non-Christians must “request special accommodations to observe their holy days and other times of the year when their religion requires them to abstain from work…. Put another way, if you observe a non-Christian religious holiday in Canada, you might have to take the day off work — assuming your employer will give you permission to do so… This has a real effect on people’s lives that may not be visible to those who already get the day off to observer their traditions”

Almost immediately, backlash began, primarily in the fervently Catholic province of Quebec. Then, on Wednesday, Oct. 29th, Bloq Quebecois leader, Mr. Blanchet rose in parliament and asked,  “Mr. Speaker, according to the prime minister, is Christmas racist?” during the question period to which the government replied a firm “no.”  

Having received verbal support from the federal government, and with the MNA having already denounced the paper, the next day the Bloc Quebecois introduced legislation in parliament to denounce the CHRC’s paper. The motion was unanimously adopted by the House of Commons. 

Although hopefully, everyone can agree that Christmas in and of itself being a stat holiday is not discriminatory, it does raise two questions: one, does Christmas being the  LONE stat religious holiday this season make it discriminatory; and two, should Chanukah, and other religious events (from all major faiths) ergo become stat holidays? 

Not doing so reinforces talking points that Arab Muslims who are pro-Palestinian have been (rightly or wrongly) making that the ‘West’ is Islamaphobic; furthermore, there have been claims that despite our professed “small-L Liberal” values of multiculturalism and tolerance, western civilization is, in fact, hypocrites. We preach from high horses but have not properly integrated Islam into the Canadian state and society. Emblematic of the fact that non-Christian holidays are not days off in our (supposedly multi-cultural) state. 

On the other hand, claims of islamophobia are delegitimized since Jewish holidays are also not integrated. However, Jews are a much smaller proportion of the population, and better integrated partly due to shared “Judeo-Christian” Biblical heritage, but also because of long-existing Jewish communities within Christian nations. Nevertheless, representing only one percent of the population it would be impractical to impose a plethora of Jewish stat holidays on the country, adding a whole week in days off to December alone. Banks would be closed, and schools as well. Then add Kwanza, and other smaller holidays to the list… there would be no end. The line has to be drawn somewhere if placating minoritarianism interferes with the cohesion and the maintained functioning of the state; in Canada, the legal framework of our institutions already exists to preserve the interests of a majority, in a couple of ways, while also depriving minorities of equal rights in some aspects. 

Legally, Canada is a spectrum of inclusivity with many different provinces and institutions having been intentionally created as majoritarian systems regarding religion, ethnicity, and language. 

For starters, our neighbours to the South, America and Mexico, both have the separation of church and state purposefully written within their constitutions, unlike us Canadians, who also don’t have state neutrality in matters of religion made explicit. Furthermore, although Trudeau is currently the Prime Minister of Canada, as a former Dominion of the British Empire and a current member of the Commonwealth, the nation’s Head of State is still the Monarch –King Charles II, who is also the Supreme Guardian of the Church of England, and thus purportedly defender of the Anglican faith. Canada is tacitly a Christian state whether we want to admit it or not. Of the 23 prime ministers, all have been Christian, 13 Protestants, and 10 Catholics. This is because they are a majority of the population. Muslims and Jewish people only make up a measly 5% and 1%, respectively.

What about Quebec? As a province, it is unapologetically a majoritarian system internally, but paradoxically it fiercely guards the institutional Federal minoritarianism which was enshrined into law through Confederation where they achieved a disproportionate control over the federal government in 1867 which it has never relinquished. Domestically, Quebec gives no credence to what minorities want; instead, jealously guards the privileges of the French-Catholic society. The English language is heavily restricted. Similar to France, in 2019 Quebec introduced the Laicity Act, which essentially just enforced secularism on some civil servants by not allowing the outward wearing of religious garbs such as a kipah, or hijab. Federally, they enjoy 24 senators, as many as the entire west of the country, and along with Ontario, Quebec is ½ of the so-called “Laurentian elite” –a cabal of upper-class elites living within the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto triangle who have dominated Canadian politics.

In contrast to the two extremes presented: Quebec and the Monarchy (the embodiment of the Anglo-Francophone divide in the country), New Brunswick has been a province of compromise historically. Since its inception, the province has been divided by the French and English. That is why NB is Canada’s only officially bilingual province because language rights are guaranteed by the Charter and Rights and Freedoms. 

So, overall does Canada having Christmas as the lone religious statuary holiday this month make it racist? I don’t think so. Chanukah doesn’t need to be a statuary holiday. If Israel can be a Jewish State, then Canada can tacitly be a Christian one for all I care –Who wants to colour in a Channukah bush anyway?!?! Although it may be frustrating to not have a day off on Chanukah, the logistics of making the myriad of Jewish holidays statuary seems an excessive burden on the productivity of the state and society for 1% of the population’s benefit. Canada has many majoritarian systems: From first-past-the-post elections to religious holidays, the monarchy, and so much more. So, it seems to me a strange form of narcissism to come to a country and impose on its ideas and traditions your own. 

As the saying goes, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do.’ –and a person has to have lots of Gaul(s) to think the saying should be: ‘When in Rome, do as the Celts do.’ 

About the Author
I did my BA at Mount Allison University in Canada, studying History & Political Science. Thereafter, I began to pursue a degree in Journalism but took a hiatus from school to accept numerous job offers. I got my start in writing working for ERETZ: the Magazine of Israel in Tel Aviv, Israel. From my homeland Canada I have been published by both the National Post, and Jewish Post & News. The paper I currently write for and help publish is The Jewish Post -the successor to the now defunct paper: The Jewish Post & News. As a researcher and writer, I believe that applying historical context along with an in-depth knowledge of regional identity and political ideologies is the best way to identify and explain current geopolitical trends as well as forecast growing tension and unrest in future areas of conflicts -militarily, politically, and economically.
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