And so it begins: the slow slide becomes a headlong rush into festive full-on. I’m not ready. I’m cross with Christmas this year. I want to grab it by the baubles and tell it what I really think. About Dad not being here, and a friend having a heart attack and a mate being in hospital and a grandson being ill, and the environment being shot to pieces and the political scene a nightmare. I mean, honestly it’s all just… rubbish . I would like to stamp my foot and shout at Christmas ’til my throat hurts:. Do you honestly expect me to put up decs and think about presents and make cake and play games and act as if everything is…PARTY??
My mind pans back over past Christmasses – there are fifty seven in all. That’s a lot of carols and food and wrapping paper. It’s whole roomfuls of good cheer and sometimes not so good, of plans made with love and some with courage, depending on what was going on at the time. Christmasses stuffed, like the turkey, with comforting flavours and sometimes more off-beat ones, not picture perfect but ultimately sustaining, fat with life, other people’s lives and mine. My favourite ones are when the children were small despite the bone aching tiredness of wrapping tiny treats to put in stockings at midnight on Christmas Eve, and up with them at dawn…
C-H-R-S-T-M-A-S. Don’t you love saying that word usually? There’s something magical about the way it even sounds. No doubt my daughter with her linguistic background would explain about sibilance and first-syllable-stress and stuff. But to me it sounds like the noise you get when you scrunch tinsel or ring a bell, something like the sound of angels’ wings.
There seems to be some dispute as to the exact meaning of the word Christmas. Christ obviously means Jesus Christ but the mas is problematic. some scholars think it’s from the Latin mittere in which case it would mean something that has been sent.
My daughter told me about Elliott who is eight. He has spent a lot of time in York hospital with different illnesses. When he left, he wanted to do something to help the children there, so he decided to run from York to Selby (15 miles) to raise money to buy toys. My daughter’s company ran a competition to find a local hero to switch on the lights at Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland and Elliott’s parents nominated him. Three weeks ago, he came out of school to find his excited and emotional mum. He had won. Elliott asked if he could invite someone from the ward to help him. So on Friday 15th November, Elliott and his friend William, from York Hospital, skated across the ice in front of crowds of people, and both of their families, to flick the switch for this year’s festivities. Here is Elliott practising for his big run.
A child suffers long and, though he gets well, has now to accept others may not. He doesn’t rant. He doesn’t rage against Christmas and life and all the things that are not right. No, he runs. He trains with his parents and his friends. He puts one foot in front of another, despite the risks perhaps to his health, to his lungs. He turns his face to the sun on behalf of others. And he runs. This is the light and hopeful spirit of a child.
I do not want you to think it’s all different now. That it’s alright. It’s still very much NOT alright. But I think about this boy and I notice these – a friend is reunited with her siblings, there’s a local food collection, an old woman gives to a beggar. A man trips over another’s dog and they laugh.
Perhaps God uses children to disarm us. Also, forgiveness and generosity and kindness and courage, from friends and strangers: angels with clipped wings. I do not feel like being happy about Christmas and the world right now. But a slender finger of hope presses at the corners of me – all hard and square and huffy – and something loosens, ever so slightly.
Advent arrives and we begin to hear the older-than-life story. It catches in my throat when I read – The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. Light, tiny and tender, can help us see, can steal into shadows. I think of Elliott and William and a verse from a hymn – I will hold the Christ-light for you, in the night time of your fear. I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear. You may not believe in Jesus Christ but to love others in the way He did – this is surely a good thing…
So, on a scant and slate coloured morning, I make my choice. Elliott has had eight Christmasses to my fifty seven and if he can run, so will I. Well, I’m too fat to actually run, so instead, I’ll do these: – give to the food bank and support my sick friends, donate to help children and look at photos of Dad and remember how he loved Christmas. I’ll make braised cabbage for my son and chocolatey things for my daughters and home made crackers for the environment and vote with my conscience.
But it costs to keep giving when your heart is broken! This is what I tell the God I believe in and He whispers this: Tell me about it! And I am disarmed, again, by a child, the kindness of strangers, the courage of travellers, the old, old story with its comforting words. And there were shepherds…
C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S May they come, for you, for me – the sound of bells, the sigh of wings. Christ as something sent.
You are Christmas and so am I.