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Brian Rudman

Forget the Christmas straw man – tackle a real problem

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It would be great to see Human Rights Commissioner Susan Devoy take on a real problem, instead of wasting time on hoary old sillinesses like dropping the word Christmas from our summer vocabulary.

Dame Susan wants to save me, and the majority of New Zealanders who are not Christian, from feeling excluded at this time of year. Let me assure her that as long as the sun shines, the wine flows and there’s plenty of pork crackling, I don’t care what the season is called. As for what the Christians get up to inside their churches, that’s their business. I don’t feel left out in any way.

As patron of the Auckland Regional Migrants Services (Arms) Dame Susan says she agrees with the agency’s policy of avoiding the word Christmas, by referring to “happy holidays” and “season’s greetings” and other euphemisms instead. Arms is planning a “festive lunch” instead of a Christmas lunch, so non-Christians won’t feel excluded.

As one of the 41.9 per cent of New Zealanders who ticked the “no religion” box in the 2013 census, I’ve never felt excluded or ostracised by the use of Christian-based words like Christmas or Easter. Our Northern Hemisphere ancestors were holding festivals to mark the beginning of spring and winter long before this Johnny-come-lately religion appeared on the scene and hijacked the dates. In recent years, the rest of us have been steadily claiming the holidays back.

Nor do I feel isolated by the emergence, in recent times in Auckland, of public celebrations for non-Christian events like Diwali, Matariki and Halloween.

Arms and Dame Susan are well-intentioned, but surely new migrants don’t need protecting from the cultural idiosyncrasies of their new land. Most of them, I suspect, come from countries with a smorgasbord of festivals that leaves our handful looking very miserly. I did my OE by travelling overland across Asia to Europe. At times it seemed like another day, another festival. There was a fairy tale night in Darjeeling in the Himalayan foothills, houses hanging on hills like Wellington, with a candle burning in every window for Diwali. Down on the plains, people ran riot one day, tossing coloured dye at each other and firing water pistols. It was the Hindu festival of colour, Holi. Across in Bombay, now Mumbai, that great city seemed to grind to a halt for Christmas Day – a custom retained from the days of the British Raj.

In recent years, Aucklanders have tried to do the same, promoting the festivals of our migrant communities and inventing some when none existed, such as Pasifika. How odd that the Human Rights Commissioner now regards the most established of these, Christmas, as somehow threatening to newcomers.

I began by suggesting Dame Susan take on a real problem. Here’s one I’ve raised in the past, one that her predecessors and politicians alike have studiously ignored.

It’s the weird Christian custom of “karakia at dawn” that has been adopted by Auckland Council – and government departments – to precede the opening or launch of just about anything. Books, art galleries, wharf extensions, nothing is safe.

A couple of months ago, council worthies were traipsing around Wynyard Quarter development sites at 6am, while Maori kaumatua intoned Christian blessings for an hour and a half.

Message to Dame Susan. I feel excluded. I felt excluded when the Auckland Council was inaugurated with great ceremony in the Town Hall five years ago, standing out of politeness while the interminable praying went on. Since then it’s only got worse.

We live in a secular society, proudly supporting the right for everyone to follow their own religion – or have none. At the last census, the majority religion was “No Religion”. But instead of standing up for our secularism, government officials are busy thrusting religion down our throats.

They wrap it in a Maori cloak, and if anyone complains, they mutter biculturalism and Treaty of Waitangi. Yet in reality, they’re just imposing one religion on the rest of us by stealth. Forget the Christmas straw man, Dame Susan, and tackle a real problem.

This article was first published in the NZ Herald – see HERE – and is reprinted with permission.