For most people, Christmas is about carols, good food, family and giving to your fellow man. But for some people, ‘fellow man’ only seems to extend to people within their own religious denomination.
A number of Christian aid organisations, including Frelsens Hær, have been blasted after it surfaced that every tenth Christmas aid (julehjælp) applicant is Muslim.
Some members of Frelsens Hær, the Danish arm of the Salvation Army and the largest Christmas aid supplier in Denmark, have gone so far as to end their support to the aid organisation because the aid is also going to non-Christians. Furthermore, close to 4,000 people have signed a 'No Christmas aid for Muslims' petition on the online petitioning site Skrivunder.net.
A growing trend
But Lars Lydholm, the head of information for Frelsens Hær, wasn’t surprised about the criticism, arguing that it has become a feature of the Christmas season over the past few years.
“There is a clear tendency that when we mention Christmas aid, then there people ready to criticise our practice of not distinguishing between religions or anything else among applicants,” Lydholm told BT tabloid. “It’s a shame because it takes away focus from the fact that there are an increasing number of Danes who are so poor that they need help to be able to celebrate Christmas.”
Just last week, aid organisations said that they expected that increasing poverty figures would lead to a second straight year of a record number of people applying for Christmas aid.
Poverty follows no religion
But it’s not just Christian aid organisations that have encountered problems in connection with aid initiatives. The Muslim aid organisation Danish-Muslim Aid also experienced issues after creating its own aid package to help less fortunate families during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.
Betina Köring-Pedersen, a spokesperson for Danish-Muslim Aid, said that about half the families who received the aid were non-Muslims, which raised some eyebrows.
“We don’t distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims. A human being is a human being,” Köring-Pedersen told Newspaq news service. “I’ll admit that there were people who questioned non-Muslims getting aid, but like Frelsens Hær, we want to help wherever we can.”
This year was the first year of Danish-Muslim Aid's Ramadan initiative and while just 100 families received aid, the organisation hopes to help more families next year.
Recent Christmases have resulted in the flaring up of culture debates. Last year, a housing association in Kokkedal became the talk of the nation after its predominantly Muslim residents' board decided not to erect the annual Christmas tree, much to the consternation of its non-Muslim tenants. Eventually, the tree was put in place despite all of the drama.