“Do some homework on the religious and social backgrounds of your friends, co-workers and neighbours—their rituals and any dietary restrictions (especially important). Being informed is impressive and builds both your esteem in their eyes and their own sense of being welcomed and appreciated.”
Rashid and A’isha have always known about Christmas, but only at arm’s length. As Muslims in their home country, they were never allowed to participate in or even come near Christians’ celebrations of this religious holiday. But now that they live in Canada, Christmas is unavoidable. It seems infused into everything, everywhere. The music at the mall and decorations in all the shops and on many homes visually and auditorily blare the holiday. For Rashid and A’isha, it’s easy to think that all this is just a means of marketing more products. At least back home they knew Christians were gathering in churches and homes to pray, sing and commemorate their religious devotion. Here the message is muddied by hyperactive commercialism.
On the other side, Christians hear and see on the news the ongoing persecution of their fellow believers in countries around the world, and—yes—even in Rashid and A’isha’s home country too. It’s just human nature to feel compassion for our co-religionists suffering worldwide and to adopt on their behalf animosity toward those persecuting Christians overseas. Yet the Spirit, the true “spirit” of Christmas, leads us along a new path: giving and invitation.
When we lived overseas among Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others, we discovered a wonderful openness and sharing in each faith’s holiday celebrations. In their times of greatest joy and festivities, people of all faiths are more approachable and willing to engage, be it Diwali with Sikhs and Hindus, or Loi Krathong with Thai Buddhists, or one of the Eids with Muslims.
Whether your questions arise from genuine naiveté or simply from the desire to open a new dialogue, ask a newcomer friend around the time of their holidays what they are celebrating and what it all means. In doing this personally, we usually ended up with invitations to their feasts! Just as many religions have dietary restrictions, they understand and honour our restrictions too so that when we bypassed meats offered to idols, they were not offended. No detailed explanations were required. Rather, high holidays are times of openness and invitation to all their neighbours to share in their joy.
Likewise, our holidays—especially Christmas—are times to invite our newcomer friends to share in our joy. To not do so is actually considered cold or rude. As Canadians we’re too often tied in knots over the illusory fear of offending someone. The reality is that we’re being offensive by not being open and inclusive enough.
Canada received 258,953 new immigrants in 2013, and this number continues to grow.1 So how can we structure our Christmas celebrations to be inclusive and invitational, welcoming newcomers of all religious backgrounds to Canada?
Do some homework on the religious and social backgrounds of your friends, co-workers and neighbours—their rituals and any dietary restrictions (especially important). Being informed is impressive and builds both your esteem in their eyes and their own sense of being welcomed and appreciated.
Serve a selection of foods that all can enjoy. Muslims eat according to “halal” restrictions that are very similar to kosher rules for our Jewish friends. The two biggest “no-no’s” are pork products and anything cooked or prepared with alcohol. (In general, it is wise to avoid all use of alcohol in these multifaith environments.) For our Hindu and Buddhist friends, that may mean providing plenty of vegetarian dishes as some do and some don’t eat meat. For some Hindus and Sikhs, it may also mean having dishes without any garlic or anything from the onion family. Not every dish has to be according to these rules, but if there’s plenty that follow these and they are clearly marked, it sets our multicultural friends at ease. And that’s just what we want as we invite them in.
Take time to read Luke 2 and pray for all gathered, giving thanks to God for the meal and His goodness toward each of us in Jesus’ name. They will not be offended by this! Rather, they’re expecting it and will think it not only odd, but a sign that we’re very weak in our faith, when we don’t do it. Kindly and graciously, yet without any hint of hesitation, share the Nativity story. God will use this to open doors of conversation over the meal to follow. As you pray in Jesus’ name, don’t be shy about doing so. Simply let your friends know that we’re told in our Scriptures that this is the one and only name we’re allowed to come to God in … and that’s because Jesus has a relationship with the Father that no one else has! In doing all this, you’ll have a grand time being the Magi—wise men and women from a culturally different place—in the lives of immigrants to Canada as you boldy proclaim, “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).
Charles Hermelink serves as the co-oordinator for Mission Canada’s Cultural Language Group.
AT WORK IN THE NATION
As a national mission agency, it is a priority for Mission Canada to have workers who live and work among those who need to see, hear and experience the love and life-transforming power that comes through an encounter with Jesus Christ. Many of our Canadian urban contexts are rapidly changing as people move to Canada from other parts of our globe and become our neighbours, our co-workers, and our friends. Mission Canada is strategically endeavouring to place workers in unique settings. Some are already in place, daily engaging in dialogue and sharing life and faith. We must be in the places where cultures have gathered: our neighbourhoods, our university campuses, our community and learning centres, etc. The Neighbours and Newcomers Network is an initiative of Mission Canada to reach into gaps in our nation. Has God equipped you to step into full-time mission work in our nation? If so, let’s connect. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.