SEASON OF GIVING BRINGS OUT THE BEST IN PEOPLE
It’s that time of year when preparations are nearing their end in the lead-up to Christmas, and the spirit of Christmas takes over. Inexplicably, people suddenly start being nicer to each other and everyone seems to give up their ambitions and their selfish ways and lay the year to rest. Even soldiers have laid down their arms at Christmas – think World War I in 1914 when the Germans and the British sang carols on Christmas Eve, put up trees in the trenches, and met in No Man’s Land on Christmas Day, exchanging gifts and pleasantries. It’s a time of simplicity and family, a time of giving and a time when the young and the young at heart can indulge in the magic or remembered magic of Christmas. And people become more generous too – somehow they suddenly see the homeless person in the street or are less likely to ignore a plea for help. CEO of Anglicare Ian Roberts says yes, he believes the spirit of Christmas exists. “What we experience is a large generosity of spirit,” Ian says. “We have had tremendous support for our dinners and the food bank.” Often the people who access Anglicare’s services might pay their rent and electricity, and so food becomes the discretionary item. Anglicare has already held a Christmas party for disadvantaged children, is producing Christmas hampers, and on Christmas Day is joining with Rosies to feed the homeless. People can be socially isolated, especially at Christmas, so Ian says it’s important to connect with neighbours to lift their spirits, and Anglicare’s services are even more in demand in January. “Post Christmas we get very busy, and we need volunteers all year round,” Ian says. “If you can help one person a day, you will see the difference that makes.” “Our fundamental principle is to walk alongside people.” Entrepreneur and author Andrew Griffiths is a strong believer in the spirit of Christmas. “I think there is a wonderful spirit to Christmas,” Andrew Griffiths says. “People are more relaxed, quicker to smile, and are excited about having a holiday and a decent break.” “I also find people in general are more honest and thankful, expressing their appreciation and gratitude to those around them with a sincerity that is often not present during the year.” “Of course there also those people who treat being miserable as an art form – they are active all year round – they are just easier to deal with at Christmas.” There are, of course, two sides to the spirit and joy of Christmas, which may be bittersweet. While some enjoy the familiarity of Christmas present tied to the joy of Christmas past among family, others are mourning the empty chair at the table, where a loved one once sat. Psychologist Simone Fischer says it’s best to concentrate on past happy seasons and talk about the person who has died. “Try not to bottle it up, but tell wonderful stories and bring out family photos,” she says, adding that it’s best to talk about grief when surrounded and in the safety of loved ones. While a missing face might make it difficult to keep up similar Christmases to the past, Simone says it’s a good idea to keep traditions alive. “We don’t have too many rituals left in our culture,” Simone says. “We need family traditions for humans to feel interdependent. “It’s not bad to create new traditions either, but it’s not good to abandon everything traditional.” Simone believes in the spirit of Christmas but in the right place and with the right attitude. “What I think is that it doesn’t appear when people are shopping and are snapping at each other and highly stressed.” Whether people hold Christmas to its religious significance or not, Simone says it provides an opportunity for people to come together and show each other love and support, which she experienced at the St Vincent de Paul Ravenshoe Christmas party last weekend. “We had 300 people and everyone was singing and I definitely felt the spirit of Christmas there,” she says. Bishop of Cairns James Foley recalls the date for Christmas comes from preChristian roots, when the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere brought the darkest time of the year, and a good time for a feast to lift people’s spirits – it made sense when it was adopted by Christianity. “I’ve always thought if the shepherds were tending their sheep, it must have been summer – if it were winter, the sheep would be in caves,” Bishop Foley says. “It’s interesting, I’m well into my 60s now and during my lifetime, Christmas has become an extended festival that lasts from Christmas until New Year, so it has grown over the years.” “Families are on holidays and I think that’s very good – everyone is in a different mood and there is good will.” “Whether you are religious or not, it’s about good will and family, and it’s good for the whole of society.” Holiday comes from holy days, during which people would try to be “better and different”. “People were off work, went to church and then had celebrations,” Bishop Foley says. Saint Nicholas was a fourth century Christian saint and Bishop of Myra in Turkey, who had a reputation for secret gift giving, and over time he became the model for Santa Claus. We caught up with, before his grotto duties in Cairns Central, the very modern Santa; making his list, checking it twice, making final decisions on who is naughty, and nice, and giving last-minute orders to those busy elves. “I certainly do believe in the spirit of Christmas,” Santa says, throwing his head back in a hearty laugh. “Everyone is in a great mood, more willing to engage and people’s smiles come that bit more readily.” Santa is not too busy to enjoy the leadup to Christmas Eve and his most exciting night of the year, and the joy in seeing the magic reflected in children’s eyes. “The kids get really excited, school is finished, the decorations have gone up and the anticipation levels are peaking,” he says. “The look of wonder in their eyes when you tell them what the reindeers like to eat, how the elves know what to make and what kind of cookies Santa likes is priceless.” Even though Santa probably gives the most at Christmas, he is also lucky enough to receive the spirit of Christmas too. “It’s lovely when the kids make things for you and bring you letters and lists of gift requests,” he says, eyeing a particular Christmas tree and wondering where exactly he is going to place his presents. “A pair of sisters brought two envelopes – the first contained a very polite and well written letter to Santa outlining their requests and also a wish that all children got something they wanted for Christmas.” “The second contained some carefully folded absorbent paper, which enclosed some hand-picked grass for the reindeers.” One of his best moments was with a family of grown-up kids. “The Santa photo was their first priority,” Santa says. “They said; “We do it every year for our mum, as she says that’s all she ever wants for Christmas.” “One brother duly sat on Santa’s knee flanked by his brother and sister to recreate that treasured image.” “I went over to a very proud mum and told her what great kids she had, but she already knew.”
Anglicare Volunteers Glennis Webb and Beryl Burchill packing Christmas hampers for the needy with some help from Anglicare CEO Ian Roberts.