Ramblings about Christmas (I know, sorry…) and about Charity, charities and Love

It’s that time of year again. Chillier mornings, frost taking a run up, and Christmas bits appearing in the shops. I have heard some Christmas music being played in some places as well, mostly pappy lift Christmas muzak but it still sets out the stall for the coming deluge.

I was educated mostly by nuns and brought up on a diet of kissing the feet of icons, taking communion, or the body and blood of Christ as it was more attractively known, emptying myself of sin every Saturday in preparation for Sundays consecration and a general acknowledgement that I was not good enough and Must Do Better as the sins filled me up again over the next calendar week. Christmas was a big deal, a time to celebrate the Baby Jesus and be kind to people we didn’t like and to patronise the needy. A time to remember our difference from Anglicans in that we were clearly the chosen ones and should never, ever, utter Anglican prayers or hymns for fear of damnation. That one got me a detention in my Grammar School as I extravagantly nudged a Catholic chum in assembly (where we had to file in separately in case there was someone who hadn’t noticed we were different, to allow them the opportunity to clock us) who was joining in the “wrong” Our Father. I was saving her soul at the expense of a detention with the Chemistry teacher who hated me, not without reason. When exam time rolled around we all had to visit the teachers individually. I rocked up to the Chemistry Teachers den and breathed in the sulphur. She looked at me. I blinked at her. She said “I don’t think we have anything to say to each other, do you?” I left. It was a relief.

Anyway.

Christmas remained a big deal, especially when I married and had children. My husband was and is an atheist so it became less noticeably Catholic and more secular – more fun, really. Me going to Midnight Mass was tolerated with affection. We cooked, cleaned and preened for Gods sake for at least three months before the Big Day, bought gifts, decorated, made card lists, planned menus. The house was warm, golden and tinselly and we loved it. I wept when carols were played on the radio and filled up at the scent of candles. And that is where I am going with this. As my faith ebbed and flowed so the experience of Christmas changed. I am a recovering Catholic immersed in a Buddhist ethic and I am happy with that. I have gained so much from the path I have followed: the wisdom to know I am not as wise as I think, the contentment of being comfortable in my own skin, and the deep understanding of my transience. I have also lost things: the comfort of certainty, the cuddle of my God, the simplicity of Faith. Christmas, however, remains a big deal. We cook, clean and preen as much as ever although as the children grew and left and our Granddaughter arrived it took a different shape, a shape that was just as warm and lovely but was opened out and closed down all at the same time. And over the years that my Faith also changed so the ability of Christmas carols to move me decreased – that nipple-tingling, teary, warm, gut-filling emotion that Christmas Carols used to create was not there, and I miss it dreadfully. I remember each of my childrens Nativity plays at which, every time, I had quietly wept because it was so lovely, and the awful realisation on that final day in the final year of Primary School for my youngest child that Nativity plays would never be the same for me again, and I sobbed quietly at the back because it was beautiful and sad all at the same time. Of course my comedy nose gave it away when I had to blow it and people wondered how the Queen Mary had managed to pull up alongside……….

Anyway, again.

I still love Christmas and value more each year the opportunity to share it with a widening circle of family and friends as well as the opportunity for solo reflection and consolidation which has become more important than ever.   I will play carols again this year and hope for the thrill but without too much expectation. I will also play Stabat Mater by Pergolesi and know I will get the thrill that always brings. Perhaps I should simply be happy I can still be thrilled at all………

A lot of of this pondering about Christmas, and thrills, and change, was prompted by the obvious early marketing of Christmas which is in itself disappointing. It led me to reflect seriously about authenticity and ethical behaviour, two qualities I prize highly. Even though my own Christmas is not based in Catholicism any more, it is still based in faith and in love, it is authentic. It does not need the gaudy support on sale in the shops or the approval of someone ordained to approve. I do not need the prompt of religion to do the right thing ( or recognise the wrong thing) or love my fellows, or to enjoy festivities that are designed to bring people together – they stand on their own merits. The Stabat Mater moves me not because it is about Jesus but because it is about Love, Mothers love, turmoil and grief, cruelty and suffering and the sweet and bitter pain and joy of love and loss. It is as valid for our current world as for that world 2000 years ago.

Working with so many terrific people over the years I recognise authenticity in someone very quickly. Authenticity, passion and experience are things that underpin a great deal of work in the Third Sector and indeed are qualities that have created the genesis of many charities and organisations, and if married with talent and skill can produce formidable results. In their absence the tinsel quickly fades and good intentions are crushed under the weight of misconceived marketing and misunderstood motives, but if all those things are in place there is a lightness and a brightness about the business which lifts it above others and supports the drive which created the organisation in the first place. Hope and warmth are the driving force underpinned by all those more concrete talents of organisation.

So……..I look forward to Christmas in the same way I look forward to any event that excites me, but with that added thrill of knowing why I love it so much and the anticipation of some cracking meals and evenings to come, with people I like and love. There is no substitute for genuine commitment, authenticity and real affection, at Christmas, at Home, or at Work. My wish for this year is that you find all those things, in all those places, and enjoy them as much as I do.

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Comments

  • A great piece. I am married to a recovering Catholic and I recognise some of what you say in this piece. Strange how proselytisation can produce an equal and opposite reaction. Although I have some faith, it’s what I find troublesome about many of the ‘religious brands’.

    Like

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