A bus shelter ad for the NAC production of A Christmas Carol, which runs Dec. 5-24, can be seen near the National War Memorial. Derrick Simpson, Centretown News

Signs of Christmas before Nov. 11 spark debate

By Derrick Simpson    

It’s early morning on Nov. 9 at the National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa. Soldiers are in full uniform preparing for the approaching Remembrance day ceremonies, poppies are being distributed and civilian passersby are already paying their respects.

Steps away, a bus shelter ad for the play A Christmas Carol — to be staged at the National Arts Centre from Dec. 5-24 — is on display.

To some, such signs of the coming Christmas season — from home decorations to seasonal retail displays to holiday tunes on the radio — should not be appearing before Remembrance Day to distract attention from the annual Nov. 11 commemoration of the sacrifices of war veterans.

Centretown seems to be divided on the issue. Some say they don’t condone the early-November glimpses of Christmas to come , but that it isn’t necessarily disrespectful. Others say it should not happen at all, citing the lack of attention to honouring those that have fought for us.

Duncan McFarlane, asked about the issue while walking near the war memorial, said: “I don’t really approve of it, but I wouldn’t avoid shopping somewhere if they had decorations up.”

Mischa Trevor-Deutsch, who was distributing poppies on Sparks Street, said he has seen stores carrying Christmas products, but has yet to see any decorated stores in downtown Ottawa. He said he believes stores shouldn’t decorate until at least Nov. 12 or 13.

“I would say there’s a time between Halloween and Christmas that is probably reserved for Remembrance Day,” he said, “and you should probably hold off on decorations until after the ceremony has passed. Remembrance Day is a very big part of our heritage.”

A 2015 survey of 500 Canadian adults by SQM produced different results. They were asked: “Should businesses wait until after Remembrance Day before focusing on the holiday season?” Seventy-eight per cent of respondents said businesses should wait until after Remembrance Day.

Although the public is split on the issue, businesses appear to be erring on the side of caution. Sparks Street was virtually devoid of Christmas decorations, except for the Hallmark Store. That retail outlet is a special case, perhaps, as it relies on holidays and special occasions for much of its greeting-card business.

A Hallmark manager at the store, who asked not to be identified, said the company’s Christmas products started arriving in July, adding: “Trees and lights come later. We do tons more decorating after Remembrance Day.”

Christmas items on display at the Hallmark store on Sparks Street. Derrick Simpson, Centretown News

The Rideau Centre, downtown Ottawa’s main shopping hub, was mostly undecorated as well. Only four stores were displaying Christmas decorations as of Nov. 9, and three of those were clothing stores: American Eagle, Blue Notes and Banana Republic. The fourth was The Disney Store.

This timing for Christmas decorating has been a hot-button issue every November since 2014, when CBC Dragon’s Den star Brett Wilson called on businesses to hold off putting up any Christmas decorations until after Remembrance Day.

At that time, he told Saskatoon morning host Leisha Grebinski: “It’s a source of frustration, particularly to some of the veterans that I know who feel that they’re being kinda swept aside in the commercialization of Christmas.

“There’s an opportunity,” he added, “to celebrate the lives and the remembrance with that of those who served our nation and not do that at the expense of a single customer who would have otherwise come in.”

Despite the conflict around decorating, most business will be closed until 12:30 pm on Saturday, giving employees a chance to pay tribute Canada’s veterans and war dead on the morning of Nov. 11.