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Multicultural Holidays

March 6, 2008  By Michelle Brisebois

One common theme amongst all cultures is the role that flowers play in religious celebration.

The Chinese New Year is the major winter holiday typically celebrated in January by many Asian-Canadians.

Many of us no longer wish people a “Merry Christmas” – we’ve shifted to the more politically correct “Happy Holidays.”  You have to admit that there’s something ironic about taking the “Christ” out of Christmas – after all, the season was supposedly created to celebrate Christ’s birthday.  If your sense is that Christmas has drifted from its original roots, you aren’t imagining things.  However, the business and retailing worlds are geared around observance of the holidays every December so whether you’re Christian or not, it’s pretty hard to ignore the fact that everything is shut down.  The season is unavoidable.  This often means that each culture gets to put their own spin on how the holidays are celebrated creating a kind of hybrid version of the season.  One common theme amongst all cultures is the role that flowers plays in religious celebration.  Those of us in the horticultural industry would do well to take a second look at the changing cultural aspects of our market.

If you look around your neighbourhood, chances are you’ll see some ethnic diversity.  Canada’s population growth has largely been fueled by immigration.  From the early 1900’s to 1961 most immigration came from European countries.  The language spoken may have differed, but Christianity was most often the religious affiliation.  Today, new Canadians are most likely to come from Asia or the Middle East – countries primarily of non-Christian faith.  According to Statistics Canada, as of 2001, 7 out of 10 Canadians identified themselves as either Roman Catholic or Protestant.  Another 2 per cent of the population listed themselves as “Christian” without specifying a religious affiliation.  The 2001 census also reported that Jewish-Canadians represented 1.1 per cent of the population with well over one-half of this group residing in Ontario. In the early 1900’s 9 out of 10 Canadians were affiliated with Christianity.  Recently, the largest gains in religious orientation have been amongst Canadians who are Muslims, Hindus, Sikh and Buddhist. Immigration accounts mostly for this shift with 27 per cent of the 1.8 million immigrants who came to Canada in the 1990’s claiming one of these faiths as their own.  These immigrants are also younger with the median age resting around 30 versus 37 for the overall Canadian population.  It’s usually younger people who are game to move to a new country and since parts of Asia and the Middle East experienced their Baby Booms later than we did, they now supply most of our immigrants. The birth rate among Canadians resides at 1.5 children per mother and as Jerry Seinfeld says “Make no mistake – these babies are here to replace us.”  The math confirms that Canadians are not replacing themselves.  Two people producing 1.5 kids equals a population deficit that can only be shored up by immigration.  Our continued growth depends upon it.  It’s safe to say that the future holds more diversity for our population and we can expect shifts in consumer behavior along with this change.


Today, most newly minted Canadians come from Asia.  One in two recent immigrants was born in Hong Kong, China, South Korea, Taiwan or Japan.  Many Asian-Canadians celebrate the holidays by spending it with family (similar to Western culture), but many still observe the Chinese New Year’s celebration.  In fact, Chinese New Year is the major winter holiday typically celebrated in January.  Chinese culture is very poetic and romantic and both flowers and fruit are symbols of the New Year. Plum blossoms, narcissus, azaleas, peonies, and water lilies are the traditional flowers for the Chinese New Year. Flowers symbolize good health and wealth. It’s considered very good luck if a flower opens its bloom on Chinese New Year’s Day. The fact that the Chinese New Year is celebrated in January presents an interesting opportunity from a retailing perspective because retail sales in January are generally slow.  Tapping into celebrations held during this time frame may allow you to see a sales lift you wouldn’t normally experience in January.

Diwali (festival of lights) is celebrated by both Hindus and Sikhs during the month of October or November (the traditional end of the rainy season, and harvest time). Diwali marks the beginning of the financial year and is associated with Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and prosperity.

While regional differences exist, Diwali is considered a time for renewal, celebration and enlightenment.  Candles figure prominently in Diwali celebrations since it is the festival of lights.  Rangoli is traditionally used to decorate the entrance of the home to invite Goddess Lakshmi (goddess of prosperity) inside. It is usually a floor pattern made with flower petals and colored powders. Another version could use whole flowers, encasing them in a boxed centerpiece.  Lotus flowers also carry deep meaning for this culture.  The lotus signifies that when one lives in this world, one can enjoy its wealth, yet not become obsessed with it. Such a living is analogous a lotus that lives in water but does not become wet by it (Jansen, Eva Rudy. “The Book of Hindu Imagery: The Gods and their symbols”).

Hanukkah is celebrated by the Jewish faith from December 16th to December 23rd this year.  According to Flowers Canada, “Deep blue, silver and white have come to symbolize the holiday.”  Blue and white are the colours of the Israeli flag.  Consider building beautiful Hanukkah arrangements around lighting the menorah using this colour scheme.

Even within a single religion, traditional customs differ from home to home.  The ways we as individuals choose to celebrate the holidays is also a product of our cultural and familial traditions.  Two families of the same faith in the same neighbourhood will probably have totally different customs. Talk to your customers about their celebratory rituals and gift giving needs.  By including products with an ethnic twist in your offering, you’ll not only be meeting a current trend, you may also be introducing existing customers to new concepts.  There’s no doubt that over time these cultures new to Canada will intermarry and fuse with our own culture creating new traditions.  If we can find harmony during the holidays – then maybe peace on earth isn’t such a lofty goal after all.

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