Christmas 2011

“You should be grateful for everything you get this Christmas, as so many people are struggling” was what I overheard a woman say to her small children as they were walking outside parliament. It was pleasing to hear gratitude being drilled into children, and it made me think of the John Lewis advert where the little boy’s impatient wait for Christmas is so he can give a gift, not receive one; a rather refreshing take on our Christmas culture.

So could this year be a Real Christmas? No, I am not harking back to a charity, of which I was a trustee, that promoted the use of carol services by churches to communicate the Real message of Christmas, or thinking of snow on Christmas Day. But a Real Christmas which is not so full of commercialism and media euphoria that there is no space for what is, sadly, the reality of Christmas for many struggling people. “Mummy we have jam” was the cry of a little girl receiving a Christmas hamper from my church. When the Waitrose ‘Essentials’ line includes guacamole, pate and taramasalata, it is easy to forget that for many, jam is a luxury. And besides the financial strains for so many this Christmas, if you have lost someone this year, or got divorced, or were divorced years ago but don’t have the children, or you are alone not by choice, or your spouse is away in the Forces, or a parent is in prison, or nuclear describes not the family unit but the effects of getting everyone together in one place, then Christmas might be a time just to get through, and the sugar coated “you must feel joyful” TV coverage just adds to the strain.

Last night, I went to see a soliloquy of ‘A Christmas Carol’, and perhaps I am in danger of sounding like the unreformed Scrooge, but unless we accept the reality for people then we are unlikely to respond. It is not just Christmas hampers or donations to charities, but people ‘presence’ that many need. A prison charity worker commented to me that she and her family used to go visiting on Christmas Day after church but they don’t anymore. Perhaps this should be revived, as many old people might not like company all day but a brief pop in, especially with some children, could be very welcome. Perhaps I should make sure I go to church on Christmas Day, as this may be someone’s only ‘people contact.’

The media gave excellent coverage to the recent visit by ‘Wills and Kate’ to the homeless charity ‘Centrepoint’, and it is not beyond the wit of the media to incorporate a more Real message at Christmas. In case you are wondering, I really like Christmas and I think the majority of people do as well. But perhaps being aware of the Real Christmas for some people will help us consider them into the New Year, and we all know someone for whom, financially at least, a “Happy New Year” is what they really need.