Thursday, December 21, 2017
An Unforgettable Night
Many of us grew up with European Christmas carols and Nativity scenes that were reminiscent of medieval Switzerland rather than ancient Israel. The members of the Holy Family often had distinctly Caucasian features as well. Without ever giving it much thought, Jesus, Mary and Joseph were dominant-culture-Canadian, eh?
I was moved when I first saw artist William Kurelek's images in A Northern Nativity of the Holy Family in Canadian settings, including a Maritime outport. The cover showed them in a cutaway igloo.
This past summer we spent a month in a Newfoundland outport community, Change Islands, and met a lovely couple from Montreal. Denis is a book publisher whose company, Mediaspaul had recently published it's own Nativity children's book called Noel: An Unforgettable Night! in English, although it was originally published as in French as Noel: Une Nuit Inoubliable! The text is by Claire Dumont and the illustrations are by a relative newcomer to Canada, Mehrafarin Keshavarz. Keshavarz was originally from Iran, and was somewhat reluctant to take on a project which required imagining the birth of Jesus in an Inuit setting, as seen above. We must always be cautious about cultural appropriation.
Denis kindly sent a copy of the French language version to us. While my French is abysmal, our young grandsons are growing up speaking both English and French, so this is ideal as long as I'm not reading. The older of the two gets a bemused trace of a grin on his face when I slog through the French picture books!
The day may come -- and should -- when Canadian children can learn about Christ's birth from books written and illustrated by Aboriginal individuals of this land. If the incarnation is universal, then we don't need to be confined by European imagery. In the meantime, Noel and A Northern Nativity invite us into different ways of telling the story.
Is it important to have depictions of the Christ story which reflect the cultures in which they're told? Does this new telling intrigue you?