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Christianity SFU Study Shows Christmas Trees Can Make People Feel Excluded


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Douglas Todd

Here's a news release that came out today from SFU about Christmas trees in social spaces making some people feel marginilised. It's quite fascinating, but makes one wonder what would happen if subjects were tested on a variety of other things that might make them feel excluded. After all, McGill University philosopher Charles Taylor, an expert on the 'politics of recognition,' says, we're all members of one minority or another.

It got me wondering about other things that can get people into a mood of feeling they don't belong.

Like being among university grads and not having a bachelor's degree. Going solo to a party where most people are couples. Being Somalian while living in a neighbourhood of ethnic Chinese. Being a female on a mostly male soccer team. Having a mental illness among people who are emotionally stable. Walking on a beach full of men and women with sculpted bodies. Being a boy at an elementary school where 19 out of 20 teachers are female. Working at a minimum-wage coffee shop job serving well-off Vancouverites.

The list could be endless. As you can tell, I am being a bit mischievous. I have not thought the implications of this study through to any great extent. It's good grist for the debate mill. It's always useful to be sensitive to minorities of whatever kind. But how much does it accomplish to single out just one example, those who might feel marginilized by Christmas trees?

It suggest a hyper-sensitivity on behalf of non-Christians, treating them as "victims" of so-called mainstream culture. Curiously enough, as a religion writer I almost always find, anecdotally, that Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists are highly enthusiastic people about Christmas, which has become a giant secular holiday as much as a Christian one. These religiously active minorities sometimes seem to like Christmas's public trappings more than Christians themselves. (Read more about Charles Taylor and multiculturalism.)

Here's the news release in full:

Christmas displays have emotional consequences

Christmas displays can undermine the psychological well-being of people who do not celebrate the holiday, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.

“This research demonstrates that the pervasive presence of Christmas displays in December makes people who do not celebrate Christmas feel like they don’t belong, and it harms their emotional well-being,” said SFU associate psychology professor Michael Schmitt.

The study was conducted by Schmitt, SFU psychology professor Stephen Wright, and SFU grads Kelly Davies and Mandy Hung. Their research was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in an article called, “Identity moderates the effects of Christmas displays on mood, self-esteem, and inclusion.”

Two experiments were conducted to examine the emotional consequences of being in the presence of a Christmas tree. SFU students were brought to a lab and randomly assigned to work in one of two rooms – one that had a 12-inch Christmas tree on a desk and one that didn’t. The participants, who were not aware they were part of a study about the effects of Christmas trees, then completed a questionnaire about their mood.

The first study investigated the effects of the Christmas tree for participants who, several months earlier, had reported whether or not they celebrate Christmas. For those who did not celebrate Christmas, being in the room with the Christmas tree led to a less positive mood compared to being in a room with no tree. In particular, the Christmas display made non-celebrators feel less sure about themselves (what psychologists call “self-assurance”). Participants who did celebrate Christmas showed the opposite response – the presence of the tree led to a more positive mood.

The second study investigated the effects of a Christmas display on students from different religious backgrounds. Students who identified with a religion other than Christianity (Sikhs and Buddhists) experienced a less positive mood, particularly less self-assurance, in the presence of the tree. The tree also made Sikhs and Buddhists feel less included at the university. The tree did not affect Christian students’ sense of inclusion at the university, but it did lead them to a more positive mood.

“When you consider that Christmas displays are almost everywhere, it starts to add up,” said Wright. “It can create a sense that everyone is expected to celebrate. For people who don’t, or who already have their own rich cultural traditions, the sheer number of Christmas displays can be seen as a message that they don’t belong.”

“All of the researchers involved in these studies celebrate Christmas,” said Schmitt. “Our findings in no way suggest that we need to put an end to all holiday displays, but our research does suggest that we need to be more thoughtful about the presence of Christmas displays in many social situations.

“These displays can make people of some cultures feel less included. This is especially important in social spaces where we value inclusion and respect for cultural and religious diversity, such as schools and workplaces. In such contexts, the safest course of action in terms of respecting diversity is to avoid putting up Christmas displays altogether. But we, as a society, could go a long way toward addressing this challenge by simply toning down the presence of Christmas displays.”



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Aug 17, 2010
World citizen!
The second study investigated the effects of a Christmas display on students from different religious backgrounds. Students who identified with a religion other than Christianity (Sikhs and Buddhists) experienced a less positive mood, particularly less self-assurance, in the presence of the tree. The tree also made Sikhs and Buddhists feel less included at the university. The tree did not affect Christian students’ sense of inclusion at the university, but it did lead them to a more positive mood.

Quite frankly I think this is absurd. I do not know of any Sikh or Buddhist families that have ever taken offence to other festivals. Most Sikhs I know (ourselves included) have a tree in the house and give out Christmas cards as we believe in sharing and inclusivity in good things. We don't believe in the religious significance but in the wider message of good will and sharing. The government here often makes silly rules for the sake of "not offending" but actually that causes resentment towards Asians so studies like this actually cause divides.

The only groups I know of that take offence to Xmas are orthodox Jews as they feel badly treated in history by Christians. In fact my sister's Jewish friend is coming round this weekend to help put up our tree as she isn't allowed one at home! Xmas in the west has lost its religious significance and just become a feel good commercial venture anyway. An excuse for all the family to get together as the nuclear family unit here declines.


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
findingmyway ji

So glad you singled out that paragraph and commented as you did. Somewhere here on SPN there is a holiday article that tells in detail how much enjoyment Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs in the US get from lighting up their houses, decorating, and making the day a family get-together. People from India make lights an exuberant display at home. A day to relax and share good meals and desserts. Though the cay has no religious significance per se, for many immigrants, especially those from faiths other than Christian, the day's meaning in good cheer, giving and sharing, makes sense. :)


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Eerie thing, but this article was among my email alerts to day.

Some insights from a Sikh with feet in two worlds. Speaking to many issues so far mentioned in this thread.

Christmas celebrated, Christians not understood

Christmas belongs to everyone now. The Capital City Minstrels, a popular choral group in Delhi, is proof of the widening of a festival once limited to those who believed Jesus was the son of God. Advertising professional Prabhsharan Singh Kang, a practising Sikh, has been part of the choir for 11 years. He says he absolutely loves it and "it's the best thing that happened to my life - it keeps me young and acts as a stress-buster." Maxwell Pereira, former chief of Delhi traffic police is one of the Minstrels' longest-serving members. He says it is a perfect snapshot of change - 20% of its members were not Christian when it began 16 years ago; today, it's half and half.

There are some obvious reasons. The first is Christmas's commercial worth. Like Diwali, it's the time of year families expect to spend and most Indian businesses have adapted to the dual festive rhythm of making money. In Delhi's famous spice market, Khari Baoli, shopkeepers have started to sell sealed packets of dry fruit for Christmas cake. It makes the process of baking Christmas cake easier. Arguably, it also widens the appeal of baking cake for those who aren't Christian.

In Bangalore, discounts and gift vouchers make Christmas a season of joy for many. For Kabir Lumba, managing director of the retail chain Landmark Group, it means sales go up by 10-11%. "Christmas has gone beyond the religious connect - it doesn't matter what your background is," says Lumba with satisfaction. For Koshy's, which is famous for its Christmas goodies, the build-up to the big day starts as early as November and it's not as if only Christians are buying.

And in Shillong's main Police Bazaar, Christmas season is considered the best time to open a new store or release a CD, particularly cover versions of Christmas songs by local bands.

In an interesting multi-faith touch that goes the other way, for Jharkhand's Christian tribals the season means bhajans and arsa - a sweet made out of jaggery and powdered rice. Some parts of Chota Nagpur have a unique celebration that sees the elders of a family collecting flour from different households the night before Christmas. It goes into khullai roti, a bread that is hidden in the forest for a young people's treasure hunt. The winner is felicitated and given gifts.

But has the stereotyped perception of the average Indian Christian changed from the view that they were degenerate and dissolute byproducts of colonization? Not really, say experts, even though much of the stereotype was based on myth. Sociologist T K Oommen says it was always wrong to regard the entire Christian community in this way. "Christians are of three types - those who claim descent from St Thomas, one of Christ's apostles who visited India in the first century, converts from SCs/STs/OBCs, and Anglo-Indians. Some 67% belong to the second category."

Seventy per cent of Christians live in rural and small town India. "South India, the northeast and tribal areas of Chota Nagpur have 90% of India's Christians, while the Indo-Gangetic plains just 1%", says Oommen. The extent of assimilation is such that names like Reshma, Nirmala and Sushma are common. Many Indian Christians even perform aarti, points out Father Dominic Emmanuel, spokesperson of the Delhi Catholic archdiocese.

In any case, India's Christian community is too diverse to be lumped into one category, being a disparate group of 252 denominations. The Christian in Kerala or Tamil Nadu is entirely different from tribal co-religionists in central and north-eastern India and Dalit Christians.

Unsurprisingly, says Oommen, the Christian typically doesn't have much nuisance value and lacks political clout. But Roy Paul, former member of the Union Public Services Commission and ex-aviation secretary, says the "quiet Christian" may be more on account of their being better educated than other communities.

But Emmanuel says the Christian is valued for running some of India's best hospitals, schools and NGOs but regarded with suspicion for proselytization. "The Census has consistently put the Christian population at around 2%, giving the lie to this," he says, but much of India still believes Christians want to spread the word.

Read more: Christmas celebrated, Christians not understood - The Times of India http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/...erstood/articleshow/7125314.cms#ixzz18V7a7GVb