Indian Residential Schools: Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays

December 11, 2012

christmas bible
Photo: Unsplash

I wrote this article because I frequently see postings on Facebook asking people to “like” the “Merry Christmas” greeting and denounce the “Happy Holiday” greeting.

At this time of year, it is important to realize and recognize that Christmas is not a cause for celebration for everyone and that for some it is a stark reminder of the historic relationship between churches, the celebration of Christmas, and residential schools. The following letter to parents of the Kamloops Indian Residential school children provides some interesting insights into the relationship.

Kamloops Residential School Christmas letter
(Click on the image to see an enlarged version.)

Residential Schools were church-run, government-funded institutions geared specifically to the process of assimilation. Government legislation allowed for the forced removal of children for more than a century and during that time residential schools separated over 150,000 Indigenous children from their families and communities; 6,000 of those children died or disappeared.

Although the last of the schools closed in 1996, the effects of the Indian Residential School system are intergenerational. Children who were born after the closure of the schools were born to parents who likely attended and survived these schools. Therefore it is obvious to see why many, not all, Indigenous people and communities are spending time with this generation of Indigenous children teaching them their own cultural values, behaviours, attitudes, and beliefs.

I added the “not all” in the prior paragraph because there are many Indigenous Peoples and communities who are Christians.

Now back to “Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays”. I was at a potlatch with my father, hereditary Chief Robert Joseph at which one of our chiefs made a speech which consisted of reading from the Bible. I asked my father privately “As a survivor does it not bother you to see this happening in such a cultural event?” He replied, “No. He is one of our people and we must respect his beliefs.”

So in the spirit of “respect” and “Goodwill towards all Men,” I bid you “Happy Holidays” and/or should you prefer “Merry Christmas” and a Happy New Year too.

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