From the Editor’s Desk
It always strikes me that this is the time of year when, as Mother Nature slows down, the human population speeds up. As temperatures fall and days get shorter, much of the flora and fauna that surrounds us enters a period of peaceful slumber, with trees resting and many animals hibernating. The sharp, biting chill of winter is softened by a comforting respite and a restful calm pervades the natural world. These are the months to rebuild and renew before spring’s revival. By contrast, the rest of us are gearing ourselves up into a frenzy of activity and there is an unmistakable sense of urgency in the air. It is as if everyone is about to embark upon some immense challenge or feat of endurance. As Christmas and New Year draw closer the mayhem gathers pace. But has the build- up to the festivities always been so fraught and frantic? Wasn’t there once a time when the season of “glad tidings” arrived in a gentler manner, making it more magical and special?
Today we seem to work by an entirely different calendar, which has Christmas all wrapped up before the autumn leaves have turned, let alone fallen. After the children have returned to school in September, it creeps in, subtly at first, and then the big push begins. It is like a retailing, jinglebelled juggernaut, bedecked with decorations and echoing with carols as it accelerates rapidly, desperate to reach its destination by 25th December. Even if you make a determined effort to step out of its way and take a quieter route, you can’t avoid being swept along by the tinsel- strewn commotion it leaves in its wake.
This year I encountered a surprising burst of extra early seasonal activity on a warm, sunny day in August, when I went into a high- street card shop and discovered an entire aisle displaying Christmas cards. I have to admit, it didn’t exactly fill me with good cheer! It was a case of too much, too soon.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not “Bah, humbug!”, indeed, I enjoy the festivities tremendously, but I feel that with all the commercialisation and the spiralling pressure it creates, we are losing sight of the real meaning of what is, first and foremost, a Christian festival.
There is a relentless quest these days for Christmas to be perfect. Many people put themselves under incredible strain by mistakenly assuming this can be achieved by spending large sums of money on lavish gifts and huge quantities of food. While it is understandable that we want it to be a wonderful occasion, perhaps it is worth remembering that so- called perfection does not bring us happiness. Sometimes the simplest celebrations provide the most priceless and meaningful memories. I always think of the toddlers who, on Christmas Day, gain greater enjoyment from playing with the empty boxes and wrapping paper than their expensive contents.
I realise, though, that just like perfection, simplicity can be difficult to attain — especially in an age that has become increasingly complicated. We are fortunate to live in a privileged era when the vast majority have grown up never having to make do, or go without. Materialistically, society is wealthy, but people’s values seem poorer and their priorities are often misjudged. Fuelled by clever advertising campaigns, consumerism can generate the unwelcome attitudes of greed and entitlement. “I want”, “I must have” and “I need” are frequently heard in daily conversations. But how genuine are these “needs”? And, once they are satisfied with an endless round of purchasing, do people feel more contented or fulfilled? I am sure that when we had fewer choices and a simpler lifestyle, people were happier. Life was certainly harder and folk had less, but society was characterised by respect, courtesy, patience and sincerity. That true sense of goodwill, which is at the heart of Christmas, was more apparent in everyday life.
Whilst being thankful that our constantly changing society has improved our lives enormously; notably with advances in medicine, welfare and living standards, there is still much to be gained from cherishing the simpler times, traditions and values. That is why, amid the festive hullabaloo, I like to share, celebrate and be grateful for what I think are the real gifts of Christmas — and of life. They are often taken for granted, but to me they are precious and we are the richer for them — even though they cost nothing. First are kindness and consideration towards others. Then there are the joy, support and strength that family and friends bring to our lives. Next come love, laughter and good health. Finally, there are faith and hope, because they represent what this glorious time of year is all about. May you have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.