A miserable time of year?
By Peter Dale
Before coming to Ridley, I worked for a drop-in centre called Open Door. It supports hundreds of homeless and vulnerable people in Colchester and actually… many of them dreaded Christmas.
It was a miserable a time of year. It just hammered home all the things that they didn’t have.
“Christmas is about family” we often hear, but what if you have no family? Or perhaps no friends? Or no home? Or no money for gifts? Or no turkey roast?
I think the most painful thing was when people told me that they wouldn’t be able to see their kids, or they wouldn’t be able to afford any presents for them. Occasionally there was a glimmer of hope, “Maybe I’ll get to see my kids for 20 seconds when I drop their presents off?” The lights and the shopping were constant reminders of the things that other have and the things they lacked.
Does this mean that those of us with family, homes and money for presents shouldn’t enjoy those things? “How can we enjoy these luxuries when there are people going without?” we might legitimately ask. Actually, I think it is vital that we do enjoy them, that we celebrate well and make the most of it with gratitude in our hearts. We are also moved by the thought of others, and I know that many people support charities at Christmas time. Many charities rely heavily on this generosity; it makes a huge difference to the support they can offer to people in need.
But what answer could I give to those who were dreading Christmas? Should we just ignore Christmas and get it over with as soon as possible? Don’t make a big thing out of it?
Something told me this was not the answer. Whilst many of our guests dreaded Christmas, every year I was asked about our community Christmas lunches in October! There were so many people looking forward to this event. It was a highlight. It was a splash of community, warmth, gifts, crackers, and turkey. Perhaps a reminder of Christmases from the past.
I barely mentioned Mother’s Day when it came around as I knew how painful that day was for many. But for Christmas, we made it a big deal. We talked about it a lot. We put up decorations, lit candles, sang carols, we gave Christmas cards. I think it provided a wonderful opportunity. This community may not have had the traditional family Christmas, but they could still have the real Christmas.
Because actually the gifts, the lights and Father Christmas are just a sideshow to the real thing. Christmas is truly about celebrating when God came close to us. It is the time in the year when we remember how Jesus bridged the gap between God and man and everyone was welcomed into this new relationship. Rich and poor. Those with gifts and those without. The despised and the elite. All are invited.
Peter Dale is a second-year ordinand at Ridley Hall