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What Does Christmas Mean To Newcomers To Canada?
Tree? Turkey? Carolling? Immigrants want to experience the traditions of Christmas with friends in the context of the Church.

Zhen Li immigrated to Canada from mainland China with his wife, Vivien, in 2004, and now attends Agincourt Community Church, Toronto. Last year he invited some recent Chinese immigrants—Fu Meng, with his wife Zhang Ying, and daughter, Youyou—to spend Christmas at his home. There they took part in their first Canadian Christmas, including the traditional Christmas tree, turkey and carol singing. This interview arises from that experience.

Zhen Li, wife Vivien and their daughter, with Fu Meng, wife Zhang Ying and daughter Youyou.

Zhen Li (ZL): What were your impressions of Christmas in Canada? How did it impact you and your family?

Fu Meng (FM): This was the first Christmas we had celebrated in a foreign place and we were very excited. It was an occasion filled with joy and peace and the impression is still very fresh in our minds. To us, Christmas is the most important Western festival. It is so real and tangible, and we would like to get involved even further. Our three-year-old daughter wants to meet Santa Claus, touch him and receive gifts again this year. To her, Christmas in Canada has become a combination of hope and sweet memories.

ZL: In China, is Christmas a religious or holy season, or merely an opportunity for commercial gain?

FM: Most Chinese would agree that Christmas is used merely as a commercial opportunity for businesses. For example, Santa Claus is widely used as a business totem or icon, as it definitely attracts more attention and money. We were never exposed to the true meaning of Christmas. Culturally speaking, the holiday is deemed as an opportunity for young people to have a party or even a carnival or festival where they spend all night in the bars.

ZL:  What did you think of your first Christmas in Canada?

FM:  We are still spectators. We have celebrated Christmas culturally and commercially, but not in any religious sense. Having said that, your kind invitation to spend Christmas in your home last year helped us know more about this aspect of it and be more open to celebrating a true Christmas. As for the gifts, decorations and other aspects of the holiday season, we don’t need to go back to China to experience these. Instead, we want to see and understand more about Christmas in the Church by participating in events such as candlelight services, carol singing and volunteering.

ZL: How does the story of the Nativity and the expression “Jesus is the reason for the season” impact you and your family? Will you tell the story of Jesus’ birth to your daughter in the future?

FM: In all honesty, we never heard or knew anything about the Nativity before we celebrated our first Christmas in Toronto. I will surely tell this beautiful story to my child in the years to come. I wish all of us will learn more from it.

Zhen Li works with Immigrant and Refugee Services, Ontario Central-East Division of the Salvation Army.

Originally published in the Salvationist, December 2007.




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