Nazi bear a cultural boo-boo

Canadian Press, Dec. 29, 2002
http://www.globeandmail.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/front/RTGAM/20021229/wbear1229a/Front/homeBN/breakingnews

Canadian Press
Sunday, December 29 – Online Edition, Posted at 9:38 PM EST

Montreal — A cross-cultural misunderstanding about one of the world’s oldest religious symbols might be at the heart of the mystery that had “Nazi” pandas popping out of Christmas crackers.

Last Friday, a Lachine, Que., manufacturer of the festive crackers was horrified to learn that a northern Alberta couple celebrating Christmas found tiny plastic panda bears with Buddhist symbol is and that, in their mind, is not going to be offensive,” Mr. Walpert said.

“What they saw was a panda bear and a [positive] symbol. That’s the innocence of it,” said Mr. Walpert who thinks — and hopes — that no more than 10 swastika-bearing pandas got into the mix.

Nonetheless, Mr. Walpert intends to get to the bottom of the matter and to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

“It doesn’t matter that it is a Buddhist symbol. It matters that it is interpreted [in countries such as Canada] as a negative image,” he said.

The Nazi panda controversy suggests that we in the global village can be more attuned to our neighbours, said Laurence Nixon, chairman of the religion department at Montreal’s Dawson College.

In Hinduism and Buddhism, the swastika “has absolutely no connotation of nationalism, socialism, much less anti-Semitism,” Prof. Nixon said.

According to Prof. Nixon and a wide array of solid reference material about religious symbols, the swastika — which appears in both left-handed and right-handed versions, each with different meanings — has had an interesting history.

It has been found in almost every ancient and primitive cult all over the world, turning up among the Hindus, the Celts, the Germanic peoples and in central Asia as well as in pre-Columbus America.

The Encyclopedia Britannica refers to the swastika as the Crux Gammata, a pre-Christian cross composed of four Greek capitals of the letter gamma.

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