Tuesday 15 December 2015

Christmas unwrapped

Christmas time, mistletoe and wine... Late nights, too many presents to buy/wrap and overdoses of vitamin C to keep the winter bugs at bay. Every year, it's customary for me to have a little moan to my husband about how overworked I am. It's all part of the tradition, along with mince pies and decorating the tree.

Christmas tree with presents underneath
The presents are piling up
I often struggle in the build-up to Christmas, particularly as I am not religious. Undoubtedly there is vicarious pleasure in watching my children enjoy the magic of Father Christmas, but even my youngest is beginning to have doubts (despite his fervent desire to believe). When I let slip the other night that I sometimes gave Father Christmas a helping hand, he declared passionately, "Please tell me you are not Santa, Mummy!" 

So if you take away the religion and the myth-making, it seems that all you are left with is a marathon of present-buying and no where to park in town because we've all decided to go shopping on the same day. 

But then I had a thought: what would it be like if Christmas didn't happen? Would that make me happy? Of course not. Standing in a candle-lit abbey at my daughter's school carol service last week, I realised that there were so many different elements to Christmas, not least tradition. Though I am not a believer, the words and melodies of the carols still move me in a fuzzy, goodwill-to-everyone kind of way. After all, I have been singing them year after year since I was a child. 

Such customs knit us together as a community and help to form our cultural identity. Last weekend, I snipped out an alternative recipe for mince pies by Nadiya Hussain, the Great British Bake Off winner and a Muslim. Call me a heretic, but I am glad that Christmas resonates beyond its Christian premise; it should also be a celebration of light and human warmth to get us through the dark days of winter. 

Most of all, for me, it is a festival about family ties and giving thanks for the people we love most in the world. So many of the carols use human experience as a metaphor for loving God. Mary's tenderness for her "little child" in Once In Royal David's City reminded me of my own babes and the immense changes they wrought in my life.

So even if I am not sure about the life hereafter, I am still keen to honour the life here-and-now. In the words of Cliff Richard's catchy little number, Christmas is "a time to rejoice in the good that we see". It's sappy and it's sentimental, but just occasionally we need some logs on the fire and gifts round the tree to remind us of what's important: love, warmth and generosity of spirit.


Another Night Before Christmas By Carol Ann Duffy
A contemporary and magical re-working of the famous festive poem by Clement C. Moore.

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