Canada was once a white Christian country that has become racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse. The Prime Minister routinely recognizes diversity in the messages he posts about every religious holiday observed by Canadians. Since 2017, Canada Post, a federal government agency, has issued a stamp celebrating Hanukkah. Similarly, the UK was a white Christian country that has become diverse. King Charles recognized this diversity by referring to non-Christian places of worship in his first monarchical Christmas message and the week before attending a Jewish community centre’s Hanukkah party.
Diverse Country, Christian Culture
Despite Canada’s official recognition of diversity, in the countdown to December 25, its cultural institutions recognize and celebrate Christmas ad nauseum, and completely ignore Hanukkah. This contrast is particularly poignant this year, as Christmas Day coincided with the last day of Hanukkah. This missed opportunity is especially troubling in the context of a growing incidence of antisemitism. I’ll give three examples.
From mid-day on December 24 to midnight December 25 CBC Radio One and Radio Two present programming under the seemingly inclusive rubric of “Home for the Holidays.” It turns out that the program consists entirely of Christmas music and stories. (Personal disclosure: I did not listen to the entire 36 hours, which would have made me crazy. But I sampled enough to be confident in writing this).
The Globe and Mail’s weekend opinion section – in my view comparable in quality to that of the Sunday New York Times – on Saturday December 24 this year ran six stories about Christmas and zero about Hanukkah. Columnist Robyn Urback, who is Jewish, did have a piece about the German government’s prosecution of a woman who, as a secretary in a concentration camp, was complicit in the Holocaust. This brings to mind the thesis of Dara Horn’s recent book People Love Dead Jews, namely that Western culture is more fascinated with dead Jews of the past than Jews living today.
Toronto’s Tafelmusik Baroque Ensemble presented Handel’s Messiah, back after a three-year pandemic hiatus, to an appreciative sell-out crowd at Koerner Hall. Has Tafelmusik ever considered staging Handel’s Judas Maccabeus? I’m not suggesting cancelling Messiah, but rather doing Judas Maccabeus in November or January. If subsidization is needed, Tafelmusik could approach government granting agencies such as The Canada Council for the Arts and philanthropic foundations in the Jewish community.
Why Mention Hanukkah?
I’ll conclude with two reasons for the arbiters of Canadian culture to pay greater attention to Hanukkah during the “holiday season.” The first is that it is simply consistent with our values as a diverse country. The second is that more recognition and discussion of Hanukkah might contribute to the fight against antisemitism. The Hanukkah story recounts a struggle against tyranny on behalf of religious freedom that is as inspirational relevant to non-Jews as to Jews.