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The photo on top is my spouse Muriel on the left and my sister Taeko on the right taken in South Africa.  Picture on the right is me, Tad Mitsui and my cat, George.

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What is Christmas in a Multicultural Society?

MERRY CHRISTMAS OR HAPPY HOLIDAY

This year, we will go to Toronto and cook Christmas dinner for our extended family: our turn. Diners around the table will be more Jewish than Christian. No matter, everyone loves turkey dinner. It’s our family tradition. Except one time, my son-in-law had to go out to buy sundries to make sure all cousins, Christian and Jewish kids, get to open presents. Nobody care how we greet each other. We are family and enjoy each other’s company with good food. Isn’t that this is all about? Celebrating togetherness though we may live and believe differently.

Ostensibly, many Christmas customs come from pagan traditions anyway. So, strict Calvinists banned Christmas celebration at one time. For example, Christmas tree: Prince Albert introduced the German pagan tradition to enjoy colour and scent of evergreen trees. December 25 was a pre-Christian Roman winter holiday. A fat jolly bearded man in red costume is an invention of Coca Cola company. Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on January 6; Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrates Epiphany rather than Christmas; in England once a friend roasted a traditional goose for us. In Switzerland, we used to get together with friends on December 6 for an evening of conversation over spicy mulled red wine, oranges and walnuts.

In Japan, Christmas in the cities is an evening of serious drinking. At their favourite watering holes, they raise the glasses and shout, “Merry Christmas.” Most of them are not Christians. My father who was a United Church minister in Tokyo scandalized a barber cutting his hair when he said he was busy for Christmas preparation. “You? Christmas?” He thought my father was a sober clergyman. In Japan, Christians celebrate Christmas only at the church, not with family. It is because Christians are less than 1% of the population and most of them are only Christians at home. Christmas at the church is a special worship service, sometimes with meal afterwards. No turkey: when I ate turkey first time at an American missionary’s home, I though it was bland and tasteless. Gift-giving is not the custom. Inebriated husbands buy cakes to take home for the family; peace offering perhaps.

If you really want to bring Christ back into Christmas, in stead of wondering how you should greet, you should , “Feed the hungry, give a cup of water to the thirsty, and love your neighbour:” as Jesus said.

PEOPLE MUST BUILD THEIR OWN DEMOCRACY

Syria is a mess, so are many Middle Eastern and North African countries. The West including Russia, by their intervention, have to take much of responsibility for this mess.

I do believe in democracy. But it is a messy system. It requires informed citizens and their ability to live with difference. Founder of the Fifth French Republic, General de Gaul said, “How can you conceive of one party system in a country that has over 200 varieties of cheese!” It has taken centuries since Enlightenment for the West to achieve today’s democracy: it has taken millennia since the ancient democratic Athens. Building a democracy takes time. We can not expect it to be successful in a few years.

Even the United States, the most advanced democracy somehow managed to produce Donald Trump; Russian revolution begun by liberal democratic groups was quickly taken over by Bolshevik dictatorship in 1905; Germany. Italy, and Japan democratically elected fascist dictatorships during 1930’s. History is full of failed democracies. Democracy is still work-in-progress; often causing much suffering like the current Middle East.

The mistake the West keeps making is; we assume we can build a democracy for other people: “Just get rid of dictatorship and unleash people power.” It’s not that simple. Once stability is lost, the chaos ensues. Then it is very difficult to bring back order. Chaos produces bloody conflict. This is why China is trying to maintain order and stability at any price; even indulging North Korea. I don’t condone it, but I understand it. I am also critical of the West’s hubris which makes us think that outsiders can create a “people first” political system for them. That’s a delusion.

Democracy can not be imposed. It has to come from people who would build it in their own way and in their own time. The Western allies are proud of the Second World War’s success in creating democracy in Germany and Japan. You have to remember, however, that both countries had thriving democracies during the 1920’s. They were destroyed by right-wing nationalists. Democracy requires people to be informed and have ability to live respectfully with oppositions. It takes time .

It is frustrating to watch people struggle and suffer while working toward democratic society. But intervention from outside rarely help them. Often foreigners make the situation worse.