Every Christmas season we are reminded by fellow Christians that Canadians have forgotten that ‘Jesus is the reason for the season.” These concerns are true enough; I’ve felt that way myself.
A recent National Post comment – well worth reading – is titled ‘Federal commission declares Christmas holiday is ‘religious intolerance.’ The subtitle: “The Canadian Human Rights Commission, which wields broad quasi-judicial powers, argued that a day off on Christmas is ‘discriminatory.'”
Such articles can raise our blood pressure, but they also raise important questions about church-state relations, the extent to which Christians should seek to retain reflections of Christendom and more. We’ll leave those for another day.
For now, I’ll just point to signs that all is not lost, reflecting, perhaps, a fact pointed out in the National Post article:
A Leger poll from last year asked Canadians who grew up non-Christian whether they were offended by the greeting “Merry Christmas.” Of respondents, 92 per cent said “no.”
That same poll also asked Canadians of all religions whether Christmas and other “religious” holidays should be struck from the country’s official statutory holidays. Only six per cent said “yes.”
There are still plenty of signs that our culture welcomes Christmas.
The Madonna and Child stamp
One such sign comes from Canada Post, which released this statement about a new stamp designed by a Vancouver artist:
Canada Post continues its annual tradition of Christmas stamps with The Madonna and Child booklet of 12 Permanent™ domestic rate stamps. The featured design, created by Adrian Horvath, evokes the style of stained-glass windows found in churches, emphasizing the timeless beauty of the Madonna and Child.
About Canada Post’s holiday issues
Canada Post has a long-standing tradition of Christmas-themed stamps, a practice that has been in place since 1964.
Recognizing the diverse sentiments surrounding the holiday season, since 2005, mailers and collectors have been able to choose either sacred Christmas stamps or secular Holiday stamps.
These popular stamps are released in advance of the season, so you can use them for your Christmas mail.
About The Madonna and Child
The Madonna, from the old Italian ma donna (my lady), is one of the most frequently depicted figures in European Christian art. Wall paintings of Mary appeared in the Roman catacombs.
During those first centuries of Christianity, Mary was sometimes shown alone, her hands outstretched in a gesture of prayer. In 431, she received the official title of Theotokos (literally God bearer, or Mother of God) from the Council of Ephesus, a move that inspired a proliferation of religious art pairing her with the newborn Jesus.
During the Middle Ages, Mary was often shown seated on a throne, the baby perched on her lap. Dressed in blue and surrounded by saints or angels, she evoked links to the heavenly realm.
Over the centuries, artists incorporated cultural references and influences from their own era. Images became more intimate and maternal, with Mary cradling the Holy Infant, much like the depiction on this stamp.
The B.C. Catholic interviewed him for an article they posted November 17:
But Horvath’s latest work holds special importance for him as a Christian. His design for the 2023 Christmas stamp, Madonna and Child, portrays the newborn Jesus cradled in Mary’s arm as she gently gazes down with love. . . .
Canada Post’s choice of the Vancouver designer and illustrator was the result of a Mother and Child image he created to illustrate a Mother’s Day post two years ago. “I wrote about my relationship with my mother, my wife being a new mother at the time, and what Mary represented to me as a Christian.” He and his wife have attended Coastal Church in downtown Vancouver.
Canada Post recognized Horvath’s love for the subject matter and asked him to pitch a concept for a future Christmas stamp reflecting Mother and Child. His design was accepted.
Horvath described the concept of Mary that he was trying to convey in the Christmas stamp. “I see Mary as someone who was born into a selfless calling and was entrusted with a responsibility beyond herself. She had the faith to carry out what God had asked of her, and I see that sacrificial love in mothers like mine and my wife – so this was a special stamp for me.”
Go here for the full article.
25 Poems for Christmas
Victoria Emily Jones continues to impress as a chronicler in “revitalizing the Christian imagination through painting, poetry, music and more” on her Art & Theology blog.
She posted 25 Poems for Christmas, vol. 2 November 24. She has selected far and wide, from anonymous Medieval to established (George Herbert, George MacDonald, Thomas Hardy, e.e. cummings) to unexpected, at least to me (Rabindranath Tagore, Mary Elizabeth Coleridge – grand-niece of Samuel Taylor) to modern poets, some well known, others not.
Surprisingly (as she lives in Maryland), two of the poems are by West coast Canadian artists – or possibly not so surprising (as she has studied at Regent College). They are:
16. “How the Natal Star Was Born” by Violet Nesdoly: Narrated by the angel Gabriel, this poem imaginatively describes heaven’s nervously awaiting the birth of Jesus during the nine months following Gabriel’s dispatch to Mary, and then busting out in celebration when at last they hear his infant-cry. When his Son is born, instead of cigars, the Father passes out trumpets to his company of friends, who sound them all the way to Bethlehem’s fields, and pops open a bottle of champagne whose bubbles spray far and wide.
Source: Calendar (Surrey, BC: SparrowSong Press, 2004) | https://violetnesdoly.com/
25. “Excrucielsis” by Hannah Main-van der Kamp: Originally published at ArtWay.eu as a response to the contemporary Romanian sculpture The Spring by Liviu Mocan, this poem alternates between the weary journeying toward truth of one of the biblical magi and that of a modern-day seeker similarly “longing for / the something more.” It can be a trudge, finding the Light – it involves risk, a willingness to follow the signs, and the tenacity to hold on to your “vision burden,” “clutch[ing] the weight” of it all the way over rough and varied terrain. But the epiphanic moment awaits, to sound like a trumpet blast. The title of the poem is a neologism combining the words “excruciating” and “excelsis” (Latin for “the heights”); “every excelsis contains something excruciating, that’s how we get to genuine excelsis,” the poet told me in an email. Read a related prose reflection by Main-van der Kamp here.
Source: The Slough at Albion (Victoria, BC: Ekstasis Editions, forthcoming)
Go here for the full list of Christmas poems, and here for the first set of 25 (which includes one by Luci Shaw – not quite local, but just across the border in Bellingham). As always, here articles and comments are beautifully illustrated with original art.
Jones said she will be “continuing my Advent and Christmas tradition of daily art-music pairings on the blog, from December 2 (a prologue before the official start of Advent on December 3) through January 6, Epiphany. If you know of anyone who might be interested to follow along, they can subscribe here.”
She also highlighted a couple of songs by Ordinary Time (well known in some circles locally) November 28, including ‘Sing Hallelujah,’on Ordinary Time’s forthcoming album, and released last Friday as a single. Based on Isaiah 8:12–13; 9:1–7; and 60:1–2.”
Drama and music
Pacific Theatre is offering a couple of crowd pleasers this season – which does not mean for a moment that they’re not full of creativity:
Founding director Ron Reed adapted The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for the stage. Two actors (Rebecca deBoer and John Voth) are always on the go, representing all kinds of people and creatures from the first book of the Narnia series. They also rearrange portions of the set as they go – moving the closet, adding snow, removing snow, creating new rooms . . .
The show is charming, living up to the description by PTer Chelsey Stuyt:
As the lights dimmed, the stage transformed into a world filled with whimsy and wonder, that lingered on well after the tale closed with a standing ovation.
Some shows have sold out, but the magic continues until December 23, so there’s still time to enjoy the show, which is suitable for children six and up.
Christmas Presence runs December 10 – 12 and 17 – 19, and at least one of the shows is already sold out. Performers are different every night, but often include Ron Reed, Zaac Pick, The Kwerks, Jon Ochsendorf, Michael Hart, Becca Birkner and Rick Colhoun.
And music – there are far too many choices, pretty much all good ones. Just go to the Events Calendar or scroll down to the end of ‘Around Town’ and choose between Sing-along Messiah, Jazz Vespers, Advent Lessons and Carols, Christmas at the Chan, Christmas with We Are Messengers, Christmas Tales – there are pages of beautiful Advent and Christmas music opportunities.