Hindu, Jewish, or Christian, the holidays offer something for all faiths

Leonard Goldman lights up a public menorah for the Chabad Jewish Centre of Regina on November 27, 2013. Don Healy / Leader-Post

RACHEL PSUTKA
THE LEADER-POST

REGINA — Arvind Patel remembers decorating a family Christmas tree with his children so they could celebrate the holiday season the same way their friends did.

Now that his children have grown up, Patel, president of the Hindu Samaj of Southern Saskatchewan, spent Christmas day much like many Reginans did, visiting friends and family and having a dinner together, but without the tree. In a society where Christmas is celebrated through everything from midnight mass to half-price sales at the nearest big box store, it could be an awkward fit for those who celebrate other faiths. But it doesn’t have to be, Patel said.

“We believe in being part of where we are living and doing part of the Canadian culture,” he added. “Even today, some Hindu families with young kids do everything like their Christian neighbours here.”

Steve Wolfson, president of the Beth Jacob synagogue, said that although Christmas isn’t a Jewish holiday, many families in the community are mixed faiths and celebrate certain aspects of Hanukkah and Christmas.

“Hanukkah is getting bigger all the time,” Wolfson said. “It wasn’t always a major Jewish holiday, it’s becoming more that way I think because as Christmas has gotten bigger, a lot of Jewish families want to make Hanukkah more exciting for their kids, so they can keep up with Christmas.”

Many Jewish people working essential jobs such as nursing or policing will volunteer to take on the Christmas shift, Wolfson added, and most aren’t offended giving or receiving holiday greetings.

“People don’t necessarily know I’m Jewish, so they might wish me Merry Christmas,” Wolfson said. “And if they were at our place on Hanukkah, I’d probably tell them Happy Hanukkah.”

For Samiul Haque, a member of the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan, Christmas is a time when his family takes advantage of time off school or work to travel or spend time together. This year, his two sons will be spending their time off school at a Muslim youth camp, and his daughters and wife will be travelling.

“For us, it’s just another holiday season. Even though we revere Christ, we don’t celebrate his birthday the way Christians do,” Haque said. “It’s of no religious significance for us, but we use it for family gatherings anyway.”

For those who grew up in a Christian culture but later decided not to affiliate with any religious group, Christmas is still an important time of year, said David Richards, spokesperson for the Regina branch of the secularist group Centre for Inquiry.

“The focus ends up being more on family, compassion, charity, and goodwill towards fellow humankind rather than on the religious aspect,” Richards said.

There’s no problem with someone wishing him, or he wishing others, a merry Christmas, he added.

“I don’t find any person celebrating Christmas to be alienating, no matter how religious their version of Christmas may be,” Richards said. “It’s somewhat alienating when it’s a public official or when it’s the government enforcing religious beliefs, but certainly not when it’s a person.”

rpsutka@leaderpost.com

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