Fr. Murray Watson

Fr. Murray Watson

June 20, 2011

EDMONTON — For seven years, Father Murray Watson has maintained a list of news items relevant to Jewish-Christian relations.

These stories rarely make the mainstream news. Yet they document the development of dialogue and positive action between the two faiths.

Watson, a Scripture scholar at St. Peter's Seminary in London, Ont., finds stories online, in religious newspapers and in small community newspapers. Today he has an archive of well over 11,000 such stories.

In particular, he keeps track of the ongoing saga of the annual "war on Christmas" debate.

For at least a decade, department stores argue whether to allow or disallow their workers to wish customers "Merry Christmas" or mandate the spiritless "Happy Holidays" instead.

Rabbi Daniel Friedman

Rabbi Daniel Friedman

The debate continues with schools and public buildings on whether to allow Christmas trees, manger scenes or messages with a Christmas theme.

"On one level, this trend would seem antithetical to good inter-religious relations and admittedly, sometimes the harsh rhetoric and the religious ignorance it reveals can make us wince," Watson told a June 10 Jewish-Christian dialogue session.

"But I believe that it has had some rather significant benefits to our relationship."


The issue heightens awareness of religious diversity and pluralism, he said.

Places that had never heard of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Diwali are now engaged in vigorous debate about the appropriate ways to mark those occasions.

It also encourages Christians to be inclusive and sensitive, and encourages them in finding ways to take rightful pride in their own faith while not diminishing or excluding that of others.

In its own way, he said, the "war on Christmas" has had a positive effect.

Rabbi Daniel Friedman said Canada was founded on Christian values and he is not opposed to people saying, "Merry Christmas."

"What gives me the ability to go to bat for a Christmas tree is because I know what a Christmas tree means to you, and I know what Hanukkah and the menorah mean to me," said Friedman.