Off the Record: Wishing you a Merry Christmas

One of my brothers — I have four… and three sisters! — is married to a beautiful and charming woman named Agnes.

Her looks and charm are only enhanced by her amazing Newfoundland accent. One Christmas a few years ago she was at a Canadian Tire buying some gifts for my brother when she struck up a conversation with the cashier and immediately they both recognized they were from Newfoundland.

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Ah, what a happy exchange! As the transaction concluded Agnes said: “Merry Christmas to you!” To which the cashier replied, “My boss says I’m not supposed to say Merry Christmas.”

To which Agnes said, “Tell ‘em to kiss yer arse.”

I’ve honestly never met anyone who was offended when I wished them a Merry Christmas. I think that most of the fuss is just a result of moral entrepreneurs cadging for attention by proclaiming some kind of outrage. This leads to what New York Times columnist David Brooks recently described as a siege mentality, which explains most of the dysfunctional group behaviour currently on display on both the left and right.

Siege mentality starts with a sense of collective victimhood. It permeates a multitude of viewpoints, from the social justice movements on college campuses to the gun lobby. The problem is how it affects public policy.

Back in 2006 when I was a fresh, new councillor we had an idea given to us by staff to light a tree at city hall with some yellow lights, as a show of support to our Canadian troops serving overseas. The handwringing and angst over the decision in retrospect was laughable. For the record, I was 100 per cent in favour.

My reply to the reluctant or opposed was: “If you don’t like it, don’t attend.”

The end result was a nice observance, the tree was lit, it looked great and I don’t recall anyone complaining.

I also recall a lovely menorah that used to be on display in Village Square. You see it’s not just Christians who celebrate during the holiday season. Hanukkah is celebrated around the same time, this year running from sunset on Dec. 12 to nightfall on Dec. 20.  

I’m not sure why the menorah isn’t part of the regalia that is displayed for our guests to enjoy. I do know that an Orthodox Jewish family I skied with for many Christmases really enjoyed it. I’ll always remember one Christmas Eve when I dropped them at their hotel just before sundown to celebrate Shabbats, I said “Good Shabbats!” they said “Merry Christmas!”

According to the 2011 National Census (information about religion is collected only once every 10 years) 67 per cent of the population are Christians of which Catholics make up the overwhelming majority, the second largest religion is — wait for it — no religion.

They’re not atheists per se, but people who just don’t have any religious faith. So, I’m not sure who we’d be offending if we added a little more religiosity to our holiday season. Our community has always shown a lot of tolerance and prides itself on celebrating its diversity; we have rainbow crosswalks and a huge multi-cultural festival every spring.

For the record, I am Roman Catholic and my faith has supplied me with values that compete with the materialism that is so obvious during the holiday season. If unabashedly saying Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah is so offensive to the secular humanists (including any still reading) then I would suggest that they consider whether secularism has become an orthodoxy unto itself.

The question for Whistler is: are we really a tolerant and inclusive community? And if we are, shouldn’t it include everyone?

So, dear taxpayer, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Ralph Forsyth is a local entrepreneur and ski instructor. He served on Whistler counil from 2005 to 2011. He means what he says, but often fails to make the distinction between his “inside” voice and his “outside” voice.

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