What does Christmas mean to you , in this multi-cultural country, this internet led, celebrity obsessed , twittering, face booking, commercial, attention seeking society ? Does it still have the same wonder and magic of your childhood ? The same warmth and love and religious meaning ? Or is it just a time to indulge oneself, to eat far too much and drink far too much and rack up the debt on the credit card buying gifts no-one needs and toys for children who already own more than an average Toys ' R ' Us ?
I was brought up in the Christian faith . A Protestant, Church of England, whatever you wish to call it, until I was around 12yrs old. Then my parents told me about other religions and faiths and pretty much left me alone to come to my own conclusions. I will always be grateful for their openness and honesty and I believe that helped to give me the open mind I now possess. I went through the usual transitions and idealistic beliefs, the 'child of the Universe' hippiness of the '60s and the complete denial of anything greater than myself in the selfish , teenage years. And I finally came to the conclusion that I was an Atheist, but extremely tolerant of other peoples beliefs. ' Each to their own' has always been my motto ! However, throughout all the changes, the one constant was Christmas and I have always loved this time of year.
So, why, when I no longer believe in the 'Virgin birth', the trip to Bethlehem and the over-booked inns, the wondering shepherds and the wandering Magi ? Why do I love this time of year so much ?
Could it be that it reminds me of my childhood ? Those happy years in the bosom of my family, when everything was simple and no-one had ever heard of The X Factor and Amazon was a river in South America. When we spent weeks making paper decorations and Christmas cards.The fun of the school nativity play with tea-towels round our heads and 'Mary' dropping the 'baby Jesus ' and breaking off one of 'his' legs. Wrapping up warm, muffled in scarves and hats and wellington boots and carol singing in the snow. In those days we sang the whole carol too, not like today, where you are as likely to get a note or two of the latest Lady GaGa hit and then a loud rattle of the letterbox or elbow on the doorbell. Could it be the memory of waking in the early hours and crawling to the foot of the bed and feeling in the darkness for the stocking you had hung up at bedtime , which was now filled with crayons and 'jacks' and golden coins in nets and the ubiquitous tangerine?Then the excitement of unwrapping our main present ; yes, children of today, we only received ONE present each !!! We would then produce our gifts for our parents . This was my favourite part, I loved to watch them unwrapping the little trinkets, so lovingly bought with pocket money and carefully wrapped in thin paper and tied with one of my hair-ribbons.
Time passes so quickly and I now recall Christmas in my teenage years. Shopping for gifts for family and special friends, running back and forth between the stores, trying to decide on the perfect present. Parties and fun with groups of friends, all laughing and happy. Walking through frosty streets in mini skirts and 'fun-fur' coats with paper party hats on our heads and a song in our hearts, arm in arm in a long line across the pavement and calling out to chums across the road. Then falling into bed as the day dawned and rising late to enjoy Christmas dinner with the family and Morecambe and Wise on TV , pretending I was far too 'cool' for such things, but secretly loving every minute. Pulling crackers with my younger siblings and playing 'Charades' and 'Twister' and laughing at Grandad's jokes.
Then, when I was married and eventually had my own family there was the excitement of the preparations once again. The striving to make everything perfect for my loved ones, so that their memories would be as happy as mine. Searching for the special gifts, making sure everyone was happy. The joy of seeing their faces on Christmas morning when they peeped around the sitting room door to ask,
" Has Santa been ? ",
The arrival of family and friends, all eager to share this special day. Presents just an afterthought as we hugged and laughed and caught up with the latest news. All together, safe and loved.
And now I think I get it, I think I know why I love Christmas so much. It is because of the happiness that seems to overshadow all the troubles of the year. The feeling of love and togetherness. For some it is a religious celebration and I respect this, but for me it is an expression of love and caring, the one day when rivalries and differences should be forgotten. In this cold, impersonal world, with family and friends flung far and wide around the globe, when no-one knows their neighbour and doors are locked all day. When people live in fear and loneliness , Christmas gives us an excuse to hug , to say "Merry Christmas" to complete strangers, to take a box of chocolates or biscuits to the old lady down the road. To laugh and be silly and to visit family and friends we never usually see. I have always been a 'hugger', a spontaneous chatterer who will talk to anyone, anywhere. Isn't it a pity so many people need Christmas as the excuse to be the same ?
So, dear reader, shall we all endeavour to be like Scrooge in 'The Christmas Carol' ?
"WHAT?" I hear you say , but no, not the "bah humbug" Scrooge !! Oh no, I mean the Scrooge that emerged after he had been visited by those three spirits, the kindly Scrooge who " knew how to keep Christmas well" and keep it in our hearts all year long .
And so, I wish you all a Wonderful Christmas time, Happy Holidays, regardless of whatever God you worship or belief you have,
" Bless us, everyone ! "