OPINION

How to feel least stressed at Christmas: should we make the holiday more inclusive to other religions?

Beautiful Rosie wants a real Christmas tree. Picture: Lanie Tindale

Beautiful Rosie wants a real Christmas tree. Picture: Lanie Tindale

I have strong views on Christmas traditions.

Trifle should always have sherry and flake. Households who ruin Christmas light streets by refusing to partake should be evicted. And owning a plastic tree is sacrilegious.

One of my saddest childhood memories was learning a close friend had not only an artificial tree, but pine-scented spray to emulate the delicious smell of a real one. Her dad had a bad reaction to pine, apparently. (He was also allergic to cats, very conveniently).

I still have nightmares from watching extended relatives pluck mismatched baubles from a cardboard box to throw at the tree, absolutely no colour scheme applied.

Tinsel - red, green, white, whatever - was wrapped around the branches haphazardly. There was incandescent lights AND white bulbs put on the same tree.

At the very least, they did not put up children-created decorations. I mean there were some monstrosities, but my cousins are adults.

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The tradition of a Christmas tree was developed in Latvia and Estonia in the middle ages.

It has now taken on a life of its own, a continuing symbol of the true spirit of Yule. Protector of presents, and guarder of gift, Christmas is about getting everything on your list.

The tradition gift-giving is based off the nativity of Jesus, as described in the Gospel of Matthew - a book in the Bible. Three wise men followed the Star of Bethlehem to find the baby Messiah.

Finding the right tree is intense work. Picture: Lanie Tindale

Finding the right tree is intense work. Picture: Lanie Tindale

Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 1:11).

Traditionally, sharing presents used to happen on Saint Nicholas' day on December 6. The fourth-century Bishop was believed to have secretly given to the poor, leaving gold coins in shoes and throwing bags (of money) through windows. Medieval nuns are understood to have spent the night delivering food to the less fortunate.

Not really what I have in mind when I join the hordes at the Tuggeranong Hyperdome or Canberra Centre to splash cash on trash.

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And yet every December, out comes the debit card and the stress and the expectation and the anxiety and the rush. Santa's list looks fun to check off, but mine is just a mess. December 25 is a country-wide full stop, the weeks preceding it exclamation marks.

All to celebrate Jesus' birth, a religious figure about 40 per cent of Canberrans and just over half of Australians don't even follow. A lot of Christian denominations don't actually recognise the date.

And while Christmas is widely embraced by secular families, one group of Canberrans who may feel alienated from the jolly season are the 2.4 per cent (eight per cent Australia-wide) who follow a non-Christian religion.

That feeling when you find "the One". Picture: Lanie Tindale

That feeling when you find "the One". Picture: Lanie Tindale

One way some people have tried to make the day more inclusive is to greet friends with a "happy holidays" instead of a "Merry Christmas". Work parties, end-of-year BBQs, school classrooms all bland and sanitised, no green or red in sight.

I appreciate the sentiment, but our entire calendar and systems of power are based around Christian traditions, Australia's dominant religion. Rebranding the season feels just a bit tokenistic.

The real discrimination is not getting a public holiday when you need it. And I know this isn't about me, but I only get 13 public holidays a year living in the ACT and that just isn't enough.

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Islam, the largest non-Christian religion in the country, offers up to 24 potential public holidays. At the very least, I propose one day off for the last day of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, and four for Eid al-Adha.

A family tree with an acceptable colour scheme. Picture: Lanie Tindale

A family tree with an acceptable colour scheme. Picture: Lanie Tindale

Chinese New Year gives us three days, making January even better than it already is. It starts on January 25, a perfect replacement for Australia Day which can move to May 8. Besides the huge cultural relevance of that date (mate), Buddha's birthday Vesak is often celebrated on May 7, giving us two days off in a row.

After days of meticulous research and maths, I have calculated a very reasonable extra 18 public holidays if we embrace the biggest days of most major religions.

That's a whole month off work. There's nothing more Australian than that.

It's just not right and it's not OK. Picture: Unnamed family member

It's just not right and it's not OK. Picture: Unnamed family member

This story Don't wish me a 'happy holiday' this Christmas first appeared on The Canberra Times.