Queen's University

Christmas feature ideas

2011-01-03

The roots of Christmas traditions

Queen’s adjunct professor of English literature Heather Evans is available to speak about the history of festive traditions and Christmas culinary delights, the reassurance we derive from our seasonal return to the past, and the significance of holiday feasting and food rituals.

“Rushing through our hectic twenty-first-century lives, armed with i-gadgets and frantically maintaining relationships with people we hardly know through social networking, we pride ourselves on being on the cutting edge of modernity,” says Professor Evans. “Yet our most cherished holiday customs are firmly rooted in centuries past. We owe a particular debt to the Victorians, popularly perceived as the antithesis of modern culture, for traditions such as the giving of greeting cards, the decorating of trees, the snapping of crackers, and the enjoyment of a day of rest on Boxing Day. Our indebtedness to the past is especially apparent in holiday foods and feasting.”

Dr. Evans’ research interests include nineteenth-century literature and food and culinary history.

The role of Christmas in Christianity

School of Religion assistant professor John Young is available to discuss the religious significance and history of Christmas.

“Christmas and Easter are the two most significant holy days for Christians. Easter was a holy day or festival that Christians celebrated virtually from the beginning of Christianity as a religious movement, but the recognition of Christmas, as a special day, came later,” says Professor Young. “The Bible does not give specific dates for events in Jesus’ life, and the first several generations of Christians did not show a particular interest in the timing of specific events of Jesus’ life, such as his birth. At some point in the second century of the Common Era, January 6, a day Christians call Epiphany, began to become a special day for Christians to celebrate Jesus’ birth, his baptism, and the beginning of his ministry. In the fourth century, December 25 began to be associated with Jesus’ birth; January 6 then began to be linked to Jesus’ baptism among Christians in the East and to the visit of the magi (or the wise men) among Western Christians.”

Professor Young’s research interests include the history of Christianity and the church in Canada.

Factors that decide how much people enjoy their gifts
Laurence Ashworth from the School of Business and is currently conducting research into the factors that decide how much a person enjoys the gift they receive. There are symbolic factors, such as what the gift conveys about the relationship between two people. “Even if your wife needs a new toaster, Christmas may not be the best time to buy it for her,” says Dr. Ashworth. Another factor is if the gift receiver knows that the present was bought on discount. That factor generally lowers how much the receiver appreciates the gift.

Holiday planning for blended and divorced families
Family law expert Nick Bala can discuss legal issues associated with custody and access at this time of year. With the holiday season approaching, lawyers’ offices and courtrooms see a huge increase in the volume of separated and divorced parents attempting to settle child custody and visitation issues. According to Professor Bala, the parents in the courtroom are those who have the most difficulty co-operating. The question remains, are they thinking most about their children or about themselves? What steps should separated parents take to deal with issues around the holidays, to increase their children's happiness and reduce stress on themselves? On a systemic level, should Canadian be adopting new concepts and approaches to better resolve issues between separated parents?

Financial stresses on lower to middle-income families during the holiday season
Political studies professor Margaret Little can discuss the stresses (financial and otherwise) associated with the holiday season for families on welfare – more specifically, single mothers on welfare. “I am deeply disturbed by the abysmal welfare rate,” says Professor Little, a published author on the subject of poverty. “It does not allow parents to properly provide for themselves and their children. This makes holiday season particularly stressful. Hydro costs are rising over the winter months. Mothers are worried about providing adequate winter coats, boots, hats etc. for their children. On top of these extra costs, they desperately want to provide presents for their children, presents they cannot afford. They don't want their children to miss out on the joys of this holiday season and yet there is no extra bonus on the welfare cheque to pay for presents and holiday food. They feel ashamed when they do not have the money to provide presents for their childrens' teachers and friends, for the class skating party, and all the extras that come with celebrating the season.”

Forgiveness during the holidays
Professor Jill Scott studies forgiveness and reconciliation and can talk about forgiveness in families and forgiveness in a secular age. She is the author of A Poetics of Forgiveness: Cultural Responses to Loss and Wrongdoing. Dr. Scott received a Social Sciences and Humanities Council research prize to study public attitudes toward mourning, loss and forgiveness. "How many people dread the holidays because of family conflict? If I haven't spoken a civil word to my brother in five years, I really don't want to sit at the dinner table with him? Christmas is a time when people are more likely to want to forgive and forget. It is also a time when we are more likely to go to church, even if we aren't religious. In years past, people turned to religion for help with forgiveness. But now, forgiveness is largely a secular concern,” says Dr. Scott.

 

To arrange an interview, please contact Michael Onesi at 613.533.6000 ext. 77513 or michael.onesi@queensu.ca, or Kristyn Wallace at 613.533.6000 ext. 79173 or kristyn.wallace@queensu.ca at News and Media Services, Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Attention broadcasters: Queen’s has facilities to provide broadcast quality audio and video feeds. For television interviews, we can provide a live, real-time double ender from Kingston via fibre optic cable. Please call for details.

 
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