A Canadian Christmas

This fall’s election frenzy (both in Canada and across the border) reminded me what I appreciate about this country. Here in the north, there’s an ethos of subtlety, understatement, and deference. We don’t seem to be as consumed by Hollywood glamour and entertainment as our American neighbours.

Why? Because, for one thing, Canadians are too concerned about survival. During the prairie winter, people worry about starting their cars in minus-40-degree weather. During the B.C. summer, homeowners worry about uncontrolled forest fires. During the Maritime fishing season, mariners worry about the sea and its bounty.

Over the years, our national poets and writers have immortalized the ongoing battle with nature that we face. Just when we think we’ve conquered the rugged north, it claims victory over us.

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,
is the same moment when the
trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like
a wave
and you can’t breathe.
—Margaret Atwood, “The Moment”

But it’s not just physical survival that defines Canadians. The fight for survival takes place in cultural, political, and religious arenas, as well. French Canadians fight to keep their language alive. Canadian politicians and media fight to distinguish our country from the United States. Even Canadian Christianity seems to be in a constant battle to stay alive.

“Church attendance in Canada is declining rapidly. Atheism is rising. Christian moral values are being replaced by secular ones. Canada is no longer a Christian nation, and Canadian Christians will soon be a persecuted minority,” writes Jim Coggins in a December 2007 Canadianchristianity.com article.

Yet, in the midst of our battle for survival comes Christmas. Hallelujah! Could it be more welcome?

In stark contrast to barren winter landscapes, darkened skies at midday, uneasy political and religious milieu, comes the promise of a baby – of new life.

What a gift! As strange as it may seem to celebrate a birth in the middle of winter, the truth of Christmas creates a wonderful juxtaposition to our constant battle for survival.

Canadians need Christmas. In this northern land, the nativity message is not a mere trifle. Christmas is essential to our survival because it offers the hope of a dawning light – the Christ Child – who can illuminate the darkness of our situation.

So, during the Advent season, I appreciate the harsh realities of my home even more. They point me beyond commercialized versions of singing angels and superficial manger scenes. They point me to the true light of Christmas.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1–5).

For me, that’s a true Canadian Christmas story.

—Laura Kalmar

Editor’s Note

I’ll be going on maternity leave at the end of December (after we’ve sent the January issue to press) and am happy to report that Dora Dueck – a familiar face around this office – will take my place as interim editor in 2009. Dora brings creativity and expertise to this role, having served as associate editor of the Herald from 2003–2007. She recently co-edited, along with Byron Rempel-Burkholder, a groundbreaking book called Northern Lights: An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Writing in Canada. Dora and her husband, Helmut, have three adult children and attend Jubilee Mennonite Church in Winnipeg. Please join me in welcoming Dora back to the Herald! —Laura Kalmar

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