How Do You Celebrate the Holiday Season? - A ReconciliACTION YEG Christmas Special
Today, on this special holiday edition, we weave together the thoughts and reflections of two of our writers, one Indigenous and one non-Indigenous.
Christmas is just around the corner. Across Canada, families and communities will gather — as much as possible under pandemic conditions — to take part in a renewing of relationships. They will come together to sing, feast, pray, gift, and take part in all sorts of traditions that enable people to reconnect. In this way, Christmas has become one of the biggest celebrations in the Euro-Christian tradition.
For many, Christmas is a religious occasion and remains firmly rooted in the church. For others, Christmas takes on a more secular or social aspect that focuses on renewing relationships. But what does Christmas mean to Indigneous families and communities? Some people have strong thoughts and opinions about whether Indigenous people ought to participate in Christmas traditions, either religious or secular.
Europeans brought Christianity to these lands almost as soon as the first European feet touched the ground. As early as 1615, Christian priests, missionaries and nuns joined the earliest settlers in New France to convert Indigenous people. The first known baptizing of an Indigenous person was held at Port-Royal in 1610 when Jessé Fléché baptized Chief Membertou and his Mi’kmaw tribe. As the colonial project took root, we cannot ignore that religious conversion became a cornerstone of the residential school system and the assimilationist government policies.
Does Christmas represent just another form of colonial assimilation? For some, perhaps. But that should not deter others from taking part in holiday traditions. Indigenous people can and should participate in the experiences that others share without guilt, if that is what they choose to do. Because the theme of coming together, whether from the Christmas spirit or Indigenous tradition, is an opportunity to walk the path of reconciliation, together.
Coming together ought to be encouraged, not deterred. Partaking, using, and adapting Euro-Christian customs, traditions, and practises is not an act of acceptance or forgiveness of how religion harmed Indigenous peoples. Instead, a sharing and blending of Indigenous and non-Indigenous customs and culture can emphasize themes of coming together, sharing, giving, and reciprocity — a renewal of relationships. Don’t those themes transcend culture?
Christmas can be about different people and nations coming together to learn from each other and share with each other their traditions, in the spirit of good faith. These themes of Christmas are what is important. For example, in the Northwest Territories the northern non-secular aspects of Christmas bring together small communities; to strengthen the sense of family and community. Back home, much of the community would come gather for Christmas Eve mass, midnight mass, and Christmas mass. The community gathers at the Church to take part in a religious ceremony, but to me and many others, it is more than just a religious ceremony. The practise of coming together in the spirit of good faith and strong relations has the effect of strengthening the sense of family, community, and supportive growth.
Further south, Warscout, a Plains Cree drum group, released its record “Red Christmas – A Round Dance Christmas Celebration”. This light-hearted take on Christmas classics draws from Plains Cree tradition of gathering for the winter Round Dance and telling humorous stories. These Christmas carols may not have roots in Indigenous culture, but Warscout weaved together Christian and Plains Cree traditions to create a childlike, innocent, and joyful experience in the spirit of the season. We should celebrate these themes, share them, expand upon them, and appreciate the unique twists on Christian traditions from an Indigenous perspective.
To us, Christmas is a time for coming together, sharing, giving, and reciprocity. Celebrating these themes does not implicitly accept or forgive colonial harms. Rather, it brings our two worlds together in a special and unique way. Reconciliation can be about sharing in each other’s holidays, and coming together stronger because of it.
From all of us at ReconciliACTION YEG to you, dear readers, we wish you a joyous upcoming couple of weeks in whichever tradition you choose to celebrate the season.
Until next time,
 Helmut Kallmann, “Missionaries in the 17th Century” (7 February 2006, last edited 20 January, 2014) online: The Canadian Encyclopedia <https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/missionaries-in-the-17th-century-emc>.
 See The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Canada’s Residential Schools: The History, Part 1: Origins to 1939, vol 1 (Winnipeg: TRC Canada, 2015) at 25-26.
 Warscout, “Red Christmas - A Round Dance Christmas Celebration” (24 October 2006), online: Canyon Records <https://canyonrecords.com/product/warscout-red-christmas-cr-6423/>.