Sunday, 24 December 2017

Happy Christmas

The most wonderful time of the year can also be the most awful. I’m not thinking of the rampant consumerism but of the very mixed feelings that this most intense of our annual festivals inevitably brings. At Christmas we celebrate our relationships with family and friends (through cards, phone-calls, visits and shared meals), but in so doing we are also much more aware of our ties to those people who were once close to us, but who have since departed through death or separation. Christmas is the time of family and friends and at the same time it is also the time of loss and loneliness. It is a festival that is inevitably bitter-sweet.

I always find Christmas a difficult time. Thirty one years ago my first wife and I had just bought our first house and had moved in just before Xmas. But in early January she was killed in an accident. It took a long time before I could bear to open the door of the new house. And when I did I found the house full of boxes from the business of moving in that for her would always be unfinished. Everyone has their story. A good friend of mine’s grandmother died at home on Xmas day. When his mother went back to the house her elder relatives were rapidly removing all of the decorations.

For tens of thousands of years humans have celebrated a Midwinter festival. It happens at the darkest, coldest and most deathly time of the year, when life seems at its lowest ebb: many animals hibernate, most plants are dormant or died back. It is unsurprising that our ancestors were moved to mark this important festival by the bringing in of symbols of life to the hearth (evergreen conifers, holly, ivy, mistletoe) and the sacrifice of an animal to mark the point at which the year turned from the dark, cold and death towards the light, new life and regeneration of the spring.

It is also unsurprising that early Christians, some 1700 years ago, should have selected this Midwinter festival as the point in the year at which to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It was entirely symbolically appropriate to piggyback the Christian festival onto the pre-exisiting one: the bringing of new light into the Midwinter world of darkness and death. This point was deliberately chosen for the festival of Christmas as early scholars and historical records suggest that the birth of Jesus actually took place in midsummer.

However you choose to celebrate Christmas, may I wish you the very best relationships with your nearest and dearest as well as the very best honouring of your ties to your dearly departed. May you feel rested and reinvigorated on your journey into the New Year. My dearest T and I will be celebrating quietly at home with Rex. We have sprigs of evergreen plants on the front door and have a conifer erected at the hearth. The tree is lit by real candles that I bought in Germany. We shall raise a glass to you all.

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