Year 1 / Issue 11 / In Rome be a Roman / Part1

In Rome, Be a Roman
Part I. Christmas Edition
By: Mei Shao

When people are comparing USA and Canada in terms of multiculturalism, they call USA “melting pot”, but Canada “mosaic”. In USA, as multicultural as it might appear to be, almost everyone, no matter where you are from, is merging himself into the mainstream – the American Culture – to seek recognition, therefore almost inevitably Americanized and lost in his true culture identity. In Canada, on the other hand, each immigrant ethnic group remains their distinctive culture identity by living in a certain neighborhood, observing their cultural and religious celebrations, exercising their languages and even sending children to their own schools, generation after generation.

This article is not to make a judgment that one way is better than the other. However, no matter which foreign country you choose to live, it is always important to understand the local culture and language so that you will feel a sense of belonging and warmth, and less culturally shocked. This is a universal wisdom since the idiom “In Rome, Be a Roman” seems to be existing in lots of cultures. In Chinese, we say “入乡随俗”; in Farsi, there is “خواهی نشوی رسوا همرنگ جماعت شو”.

Most first generation immigrants including myself find it very hard to be completely at home with local Canadian traditions and constantly find ourselves in cultural shock. We may follow suit to do what is expected, like having turkey at Thanksgiving, gifting each other at Christmas, playing or watching fireworks on Victoria Day night, but it is more just for fun than in the original spirit of those holidays. Therefore, for those who have had their children in this foreign land, there is the question about how you would like to raise your children. Some people have chosen to raise their children completely Canadian, speak only English, play sports, go camping, and believe in Santa Claus. Since Christmas is just around the corner, I think it will be a good opportunity to discuss with you at this time about the topic of Christmas tradition and customs, especially around children.

Santa Claus

Santa Claus
, also called Christmas Father, is probably the most famous person in the world. One big culture shock I have experienced is around Santa. I still remember how baffled I was when I heard the story of my Canadian friend about her Santa Claus revelation. It was when she was about 7 or 8 years old that she was told (or maybe she just unwillingly realized) that Santa did not exist at all. She cried and cried for days as if the sky was falling down. Raised in a country where Christmas is not celebrated, I learned all about it in school and never believed in Santa because he is simply imaginary. However, as a lover of Peter Pan and the Neverland, I do wish I had believed in Santa. It is almost like a childhood fairy tale, something you would cherish forever. I have a colleague who is a grandfather of two young children. He and his wife until now are still faithfully putting out cookie and milk at Christmas Eve before bedtime and emptying the plate and glass before the kids get up, pretending Santa has visited and ate his favorite cookie and milk. They also post the letters every year for the kids, addressed to Santa Claus at North Pole. He mentioned to me that he would keep doing that until the time comes the kids reach their own Santa revelation.

Santa Claus Parade

Santa Claus Parades or Christmas pageants are held in some countries to celebrate the official opening of the Christmas season with the arrival of Santa Claus. The parades usually include themed floats, dancing or marching groups and bands playing Christmas songs. They are moving pageants that typically end near the center of a city. Often sponsored by department stores, they may reinforce the store's brand recognition during the important Christmas shopping season. Santa Claus parades are most common in North America. Toronto Santa Claus Parade is one of the oldest and largest in the world. It was started in 1905 and has been held annually near the middle of November since then. I was so amazed to see at my 1st Santa Claus parade how the old man in red was greeted by all children as the biggest celebrity ever. It didn’t seem to matter at all the weather was usually cold at that time of the year. Some children were writing their letters right there so that they could give them to the postman there. This year, the Santa Claus was held on Sunday Nov. 21st. If you have missed this one, there are other parades held in most of the smaller cities as well. Make sure you catch one of them if you are interested.

Christmas Carol

The Christmas carol Songs usually consist of merry and joyful themes. In many parts of the world, Christmas carols are a tradition that everyone loves to follow. However, it can turn out to be a nuisance too since business and radios now tend to start to play the carols too early and too much. If you have kids at home, a good way to keep them occupied would be through the Christmas Carol songs. Kids love to stay busy and get involved, with doing things which they love. So, if you teach them some of the songs, you can encourage them to share it with everyone by singing it together. There are some popular Christmas Carols, which the kids will love to sing. All you have to do is get hold of the lyrics and teach them, how to sing the hymns properly. Some of the carols, which kids can sing include: Jingle Bells, Here comes Santa Claus and the 12 days of Christmas among other songs. 

Christmas Gifting

Gifting is a huge part of Christmas, not just for children, but for adults as well. Children usually can’t wait to get up early on Christmas Day to open up the gift boxes lying around the Christmas tree. Young children would believe it’s actually Santa Claus who has brought them what they wished for in their letter or in their prayers. Therefore, parents sometimes address the gift “from Santa”. For most people, however, it’s a time to show love and care by buying someone what they like or need. For group of friends, large families or at work, a very often practiced tradition is “secret Santa” in which members of a group are randomly assigned other members to whom they anonymously give a gift. Participation in it is usually voluntary and there is usually a set limit to how much to spend. It offers a way for many people to give and receive a gift at low cost to those involved. It is also fun because the gift is given anonymously, from “secret Santa”. A very popular website to organize a secret Santa is Elfster.

Gifting could be dangerous too if the spending goes out of control. Do be aware of your budget limit. A precious gift should never be measured by the price, but by the true spirit and love embodied in it.

I would like to end this article with a classic Christmas gifting story “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry. Jim and his wife Della are young couple who are very much in love with each other but can barely afford their one-room apartment due to their very bad economic situation. For Christmas, Della decides to buy Jim a chain for his prized pocket watch given to him by his father's father. To raise the funds, she has her long, beautiful hair cut off and sold to make a wig. Meanwhile, Jim decides to sell his watch to buy Della a beautiful set of combs made out of tortoiseshell and jewels for her lovely, knee-length brown hair. Although each is disappointed to find the gift they chose rendered useless, each is pleased with the gift that they received, because it represents their love for one another and their love is eternal.

However you practice Christmas celebrations, it’s a time to be jolly. So Merry Christmas and happy gifting! If you have any interesting story about Christmas traditions and would like to share, I would like to hear from you.


A precious gift should never be measured by the price, but by the true spirit and love embodied in it.

No matter which foreign country you choose to live, it is always important to understand the local culture and language so that you will feel a sense of belonging and warmth, and less culturally shocked.