Members of St. Peter of the Apostles Council 8851 in Orangeville, Ontario, pose with the Nativity scene that they constructed for their community’s Christmas in the Park exhibition.
We live in an age when a great many people identify themselves as “spiritual” rather than religious. As a consequence, the weeks leading up to Christmas are often marked by the sounds of “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” instead of “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
Despite the secularization of these holy days, there are still Christians trying to journey through Advent and prepare for Christmas with their eyes fixed on the coming of Emmanuel.
The celebration of Christmas in Canada is clothed in the colors of the multiple cultures that now form the country. The cornerstone of all Canadian Christmas traditions rests with a shared meal among family and friends. This Christmas fellowship, though, also spills past our own tables and extends to our neighbors, especially those most in need.
Members of the Knights of Columbus throughout Canada, like in the other countries where the Order is present, spearhead campaigns throughout the holiday season to help make Christmas festive for those less fortunate. Unlike in years past, this work of charity is no longer primarily for the homeless or destitute, but includes more and more hardworking men and women whose incomes cannot meet the expenses set by today’s difficult economy.
A crèche reflecting First Nations, or Native American, culture is one of many Canadian crèches currently on display at the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Conn.
In an effort to realize the Gospel imperative, “When I was hungry you gave me food, when I was thirsty you gave me drink,” Canadian Knights commonly collect food for needy families in their districts and beyond. At this time of year, collections are transformed into food baskets, decorated and cheerfully delivered.
In French Canada, a tradition called the Guignolée plays an important role in collecting food and monetary donations. Knights and their families go door to door to collect money and non-perishable food. At each home, the group sings the traditional song of la Guignolée, followed by Christmas carols. In Edmunston, New Brunswick, members of Reverend Arthur Godbout Council 7543 hold their Guignolée on Dec. 2. In past years, the council has required more than 20 vehicles to distribute the food baskets and other goods throughout the region.
Similarly, councils from Montreal’s South Shore also prepare food baskets. There, Knights have established relationships with major food distributors that provide a majority of the food items required. Last year, 125 families in the area received an average of $200 worth of food and other necessities during Christmastime.
“For me, who always had three meals a day, it is essential to give back in this way, and it is at the core of why I am a Knight of Columbus,” said Quebec State Deputy Pierre Beaucage.
While feeding the hungry remains essential to the various Christmas initiatives, Knights of Columbus are also heralds of the Good News, proclaiming the joy that is Christmas to children, senior citizens, the sick and people with intellectual or mental disabilities.
In Edmunston, Knights and their spouses prepare an event called Le Noël des Enfants (A Children’s Christmas). Throughout the year, Knights collect toys and clothes for distribution to needy families. Children receive one gift during the event, while parents receive another gift to give each of their children on Christmas Day. Sometimes, these are the only gifts these children receive at Christmas.
Throughout British Columbia and the Yukon at this time of year, Knights organize visits to the sick and elderly in hospitals or nursing homes. These programs are “another way for the community to be involved in the sharing of love and joy,” said State Treasurer Arcie J. Lim. “Our efforts seek to unite the community — to compel each one of us to share the peace and joy of the One for whom the season was intended.”
Likewise, Father Francis Lawless Council 1534 in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, has hosted the annual Moose Jaw Mental Health Association Christmas Supper for more than 20 years. This year, the Knights will serve approximately 200 patrons — people with mental health disabilities living in the community.
“It puts many smiles on many faces,” said Al Rossler, a long-time organizer of the event.
As in other jurisdictions, Knights in Canada recognize that celebrating the coming of Christ offers a time to share, to give and to pray. Amid the storm of consumerism and marketing frenzy that takes place on Black Friday and Boxing Day, the Knights challenge people to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Through the annual campaign, people are encouraged to remember the reason for the season in simple ways: wishing others a “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”; sending religiously themed Christmas cards; or forgoing inflatable snowmen and decorating one’s house with a Nativity scene instead.
St. Peter of the Apostles Council 8851 in Orangeville, Ontario, erects a Nativity scene each year as part of a local Christmas in the Park exhibition.
“It is of special interest to families, since it gets parents talking about the ‘real’ Christmas story,” said Grand Knight Terry Berrett. “It definitely helps keep Christ at the heart of the holiday festivities in the park.”
In Vancouver, members of St. Francis Xavier Council 10500 dedicate their “Keep Christ in Christmas” holiday initiatives to their local parish community. The season’s festivities include a trilingual Advent retreat (held in Cantonese, Mandarin and English) and a dinner in honor of married couples for the feast of the Holy Family.
“My involvement with the parish encourages me to continue to build a stronger community, especially at this time of the year,” said District Deputy Ming Lau. “Not only is it good for the community itself, but it also makes me a better man and a better father. Now I see my 17-year-old son getting involved. I am very proud to see him share in the true spirit of Christmas.”
On Christmas Eve, churches everywhere will be filled with families that desire to add authentic meaning to the holiday and their lives. This is a chance for parish communities and for the Knights of Columbus — in Canada and elsewhere — to be ambassadors of the new evangelization. It is also an opportunity in this Year of Faith to create an environment in which the Spirit of the season can speak to these families.
In this way, Christmas can be a time for Knights and their families to contemplate and marvel in this great mystery of love incarnate and to join the angels and proclaim: “‘Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk 2:10-11).
Sébastien Lacroix is a member of Père-Lamarche Council 7724 in Toronto.