The Weekend Post - Cairns Eye - - Front Page - WORDS// D E N I S E C A RT E R

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.

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