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U.S. President Barack Obama makes remarks to guests next to a menorah at the conclusion of a Hanukkah reception, marking the Jewish Festival of Lights holiday, in the Grand Foyer of the White House in Washington, December 5, 2013. (MIKE THEILER/REUTERS)
U.S. President Barack Obama makes remarks to guests next to a menorah at the conclusion of a Hanukkah reception, marking the Jewish Festival of Lights holiday, in the Grand Foyer of the White House in Washington, December 5, 2013. (MIKE THEILER/REUTERS)

Have your say: How can we honour Canada’s cultural diversity during the holidays? Add to ...

Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.

‘Tis the season for the most festive forms of political correctness. “Happy holidays!” has become the default December greeting because it seems unlikely to cause offence. But is a generic gesture really the best this season has to offer? Ideally, shouldn’t you know your friends (and their faiths) and acknowledge whatever is most meaningful for them?

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Growing up in Thornhill, we lived down the street from a kid with a Jewish mother and a Catholic father. We celebrated Christmas, but we also knew Hanukkah; and we envied the interfaith family for doubling their holiday cheer. Not because our friend got twice as many presents. Even as kids, we appreciated the diversity and depth of Canadian culture.

These days, we are rarely home for the holidays. This year, Marc will spend Christmas in Kenya and Craig will be in India, so we’ll be missing our Canadian Christmas. We will have a bit of an understanding of what it might be like for new Canadians importing their traditions from home, especially to Canada, already a mix of English and French culture and aboriginal roots. Season’s greetings can get complicated.

Whatever your faith, perhaps we can all agree to rally a little harder against the materialization of this time of year, spending more time with family and less at the mall. Christmas is about the common bond of humanity, which believe it or not, is not discount electronics.

We asked a group of experts how they remain mindful of other cultures while they spread holiday cheer.

This week’s question: How can we honour Canada’s religious and cultural diversity during the holidays?

THE EXPERTS

Paul Bramadat, director of the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria

My own sense is that in these “postcolonial,” “postmodern” or even “postsecular” times, while it makes sense to be mindful of the fact that [Merry Christmas] greetings will irritate some people, it’s also important for all of us to have a sense of humour about the massive religious and demographic shifts underway in our society.

Kiran Omar, president of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women’s Montreal chapter

I think we as a society have overdone the “political correctness” side of things. There is and will remain traditions that are linked to either faith or cultural values. Maintaining these links to an extent where they do not encroach on rights of others shows sensitivity and respect.

Justin Trottier, a board member with the Canadian Secular Alliance

The one thing you want to avoid is offending or insulting others. The recent shout out to atheist infidels from Manitoba Conservative leader Brian Pallister is a case in point. While he was trying to be inclusive, his awkward, clearly unprepared decision to include atheists in his remarks was poorly executed and ended up offending when I’m sure he meant to be welcoming.

Michael Swan, associate Editor of The Catholic Register

A generic greeting, “happy holidays,” is rather dismissive. It says, “I don’t know what you believe and I don’t care to know; I just have this social obligation to send out cards and e-mails between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18.”

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