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I’m dreaming of a Christmas

Single Tree in Snow by Petr Kratochvil

Single Tree in Snow by Petr Kratochvil

 

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas – just like the ones I used to know…

According to the Guinness Book of  World Records, Bing Crosby’s version of Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ is the best-selling single of all time, with sales exceeding 50 million. The song, albeit short and relatively simple in its lyricism, resonates with what many of us think of at Christmas: re-creating our best memories of the season.

Mine include waking early with my younger brothers and sisters to find a stocking at the end of each of our beds, emptying them all over the floor with squeals of surprise and delight, eating the chocolate before sunrise and playing or experimenting with the various nick-nacks that comprised their contents. Eventually, we would wake Mum and Dad up to surprise them with theirs – we all clubbed together to fill a stocking for them, too. The day continued with a Christmas Day service at the chapel followed by a late Christmas dinner at around 3pm and even more presents well into the late afternoon. The lounge floor was, by then, covered with wrapping paper and each person had gathered a pile of toys, games and books in their lap or on the floor round their feet.

But Christmas was never white. My first white Christmas was at around the age of 40.

Now, with children of my own, who are equally excited about the festival as I was at their age, it has not lost its sparkle but I often reminisce about Christmas as a child and, when Bing Crosby’s dulcet tones floating out of the speakers, I wonder what kind of Christmas we are actually dreaming of and why.

Why do we have such high expectations of Christmas? Is it because the rest of the year is so disappointing? Is it because Christmas has been hyped up to deliver – when, in fact, it rarely does and, if we were honest, it can’t?

And are those expectations realistic? Is it realistic to expect a ‘high’ at Christmas that absorbs or masks the drudgery, pain or trials of what we consider to be real life?

If we’re not careful, Christmas can be a massive disappointment that comes at a high cost:

  • According to Money Advice Service’s 2013 Christmas spending survey, one in three UK adults say they expect to start 2014 in debt because of Christmas spending and one in ten are still paying for last Christmas (2012).
  • According to eBay, there are around 100,000 unwanted Christmas presents sold on its site each year, the total value this year expecting to be in excess of £2 billion.
  • January 8th is the busiest day of the year for divorce lawyers when up to one in five couples will enquire about divorce after the pressures of Christmas. The enforced intimacy of Christmas, coupled with the start of a new year is thought to be the main trigger.

 

Like many things in life, if we come with an expectation to receive, we are often disappointed. However, if we come with an expectation to give, we will often find that what we receive in turn is surprising, unexpected and memorable.

As I write, it is New Year’s Eve, 31st December 2013. The highlights of my particular Christmas have been those times of sharing, helping and giving: sharing food, chocolates, jokes, a good film, conversation; helping with preparations and clearing up, helping my kids put up decorations, helping my wife wrap gifts – and giving: gifts, time, smiles and encouragement.

How about NOT dreaming of an idyllic Christmas but, instead, making Christmastime real – for ourselves and for those we share it with.

Happy Christmas 2014…

Why We Pin Our Hopes on Christmas

Christmas Tree Design: Feelart / Free Digital Photos

Christmas Tree Design: Feelart / Free Digital Photos

I attended my son’s school Christmas Carol concert at our local parish church earlier this week and was struck by the brief but poignant message delivered by the vicar. It was both inclusive and pointed. He talked of hope springing up at Christmastime. He acknowledged that not everyone shares the same faith at Christmastime but everyone expresses a kind of hope.

We spend eleven months of the year dealing with the messiness of life and, during December, we turn our thoughts to the hope that Christmas brings: hope for dreams fulfilled, hope for relationships restored, hope for happiness, hope for a Christmas better than the one we had last year, hope for a miracle arising out of life’s messiness, hope for something at Christmas that makes sense of the mess we experience throughout the rest of the year. And, let’s face it, Christmas itself is messy – as is The Nativity, the story behind Christmas.

But is this hope realistic?

Isn’t the hope we pin on Christmas likely to disappoint? Very much like trying to pin the tail on the donkey whilst blindfolded, we try to pin our hopes where we believe we may find answers. But so much of Christmas is hopeless: the commercialism, the tacky decorations, the regurgitated music, the excesses of food, drink and spending. And, in the New Year, we look back bleakly and realise that our hopes for the season have evaporated as quickly as the festival was over. Gifts are left unused or, worse still, listed on an online auction site. Our waistlines have expanded but our bank balances have contracted.

But there is hope. The vicar at the carol service pointed out that Christmas brings us together to discover afresh the hope we draw from each other and, if we are persuaded, the hope we draw from God. We need Christmas. We need to rediscover the hope that inspires us and reignites us. We need to share that hope with each other – God knows how hard we each fight our own battles and how much we need those around us to hold us up.

Christmas is a time to put right much of what we get wrong throughout the rest of the year – it is a time of restoration and reconciliation and regeneration. It really is a time of hope. No wonder the angels talk of ‘goodwill to everyone’.

And we should all try to put into practice Plato’s exhortation:

‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.’