By Michelle Brisebois
By Michelle Brisebois
Do you still wish people a “Merry Christmas” or have you shifted to the more politically correct “Happy Holidays?”
Do you still wish people a “Merry Christmas” or have you shifted to the more politically correct “Happy Holidays?” Those who bemoan the fact that Christmas has drifted from its original roots aren’t imagining things. The business and retailing worlds are geared around observance of the holidays, 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 feasting plays in religious celebration.
Even cultures that fast as part of their religious observance generally break the fast with a banquet. Those of us who make our living by feeding people would do well to take a second look at the changing cultural aspects of our market.
Take a glance around your neighbourhood. Chances are you’ll see some ethnic diversity. Canada’s population growth has largely been fueled by immigration. From the early 1900s to the 1960s, most immigration came from European countries such as Great Britain, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. 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, seven out of ten Canadians identified themselves as either Roman Catholic or Protestant. Another two 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 1900s, nine out of ten Canadians were affiliated with Christianity. Recently, the largest gains in religious orientation have been amongst Canadians who are Muslims, Hindus, Sikh and Buddhist. Immigration is mostly responsible for this shift, with 27 per cent of the 1.8 million immigrants who came to Canada in the 1990s 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. 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 since food is such an integral part of any culture, there will be shifts in consumption patterns.
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 the festive meal may contain elements more reminiscent of a 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. Chinese New Year is celebrated with delicacies such as sticky rice cake, symbolizing a rise in rank or prosperity. Red dates may be added to the cake to help speed up the rise in rank. Turnip cake is also considered a traditional food for celebrating the Chinese New Year. This 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.
Islam is Canada’s fastest-growing religion, and in the 2001 census, surged well past Judaism to be recognized as Canada’s second-largest religious group (2 per cent Islam versus 1.1 per cent Judaism). Ramadan is one of the primary religious celebrations observed by Muslims and falls this year in the month of October. During the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims fast during the day, eat only in the evening and, after several weeks, break the fast with a three day celebration called Id-al-Fitr (the Feast of Fast Breaking). A special sweet dish of decorated vermicelli (Sawine) may be served as one of the highlights of the feast.
Even within a single religion, traditional foods differ from home to home. Our food choices during celebrations of faith are also a product of our cultural and familial traditions. Two families of the same faith in the same neighbourhood will probably have totally different culinary customs. Talk to your customers about their celebratory rituals and recipes. By including products with an ethnic twist in your offering, you’ll not only be meeting a current need, 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 and cuisine. If we can find harmony at the banquet table then maybe peace on earth isn’t such a lofty goal after all.
Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in helping companies grow their brands. Michelle can be reached at OnTrend Strategies by e-mail at: