Our Canadian Christian friends have recently been expressing their concerns regarding the erosion of civil liberties in Canada in regards to the celebration of Christmas. Their concern is understandable. The birth of Christ is the central event in the Christian worldview. Not to be allowed to recognize this in a society that is purportedly tolerant of all faiths is quite simply intolerable. A pluralistic society surely can not mean that all beliefs are suppressed, but rather that all are celebrated in a spirit of inclusion and, dare I say it, tolerance! Fortunately for us we live in a Muslim country. Muslims recognize that faith is an important aspect of humanity. They would of course argue that their faith is the most important, but this is not the place to quibble about theology. It is tolerance of faith that is at issue in this post.

The Muslims that we have met in Malaysia not only tolerate Christmas, they celebrate it with us! My email inbox is full of Christmas wishes from my Muslim colleagues. Buddhists and Hindus as well wish us a Merry Christmas. The malls are filled with Christmas decorations and the mall music invariably features Christmas tunes. (Our senior readers may be interested to know that we often hear the warm baritone voice of Jim Reeves; talk about a blast from the past!). Of course Christians return the favour at Muslim Eids and Hindu festivals.

The difference could not be more clearly seen than in Singapore, where we have spent the last two days. Orchard Road – the Fifth Avenue of Asia – was aglow in a blaze of glorious Christmas lights hung from every tree and lamp post. Christmas carolers competed with dancers and mimes in using their own particular art to convey the Christmas message. Nativity scenes lined the sidewalks and spectacular Christmas trees adorned every mall concourse and public plaza. It was a glorious explosion of Christmas cheer, and yes it certainly did cheer our hearts to be part of it; to soak it all in.

And what on earth is the harm? And why have we lost this liberty in Canada? The stores in Singapore were packed with shoppers, the restaurants and pubs were alive with people. Every businessman in town was making an absolute bundle, regardless of whether he were Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Sikh. The atmosphere was happy and celebratory. In a month from now they will all be back celebrating Chinese New Year and no one will be offended by that either. We will all offer each other Gong Xi Fa Chai in our best Mandarin and enjoy the week off. When the Mooncake Festival comes around we will give each other mooncakes and money. During Ramadan we will all go to the evening bazaars and buy dates and satay. And during none of these celebrations would anyone ever dream of saying to the other that they had no right to celebrate what was important to them. And if you did not want to celebrate, then no one would be offended either. That is what liberty means, isn’t it?

Well, for the moment we have such liberty in Asia, and we are going to use it to wish you happiness and joy at this most joyous event in the Christian calendar. The birth of the Christ child is not just good news for Christians, but for all of mankind. So a joyous Christmas to all, wherever you are, and in whatever circumstances you find yourself. The gift of Christ is the evidence that God loves mankind beyond all that He has created. There can be no better news than this. Joy to the world!