"To perceive Christmas through its wrapping becomes more difficult every year."
- E.B. White
It seems that for most people Christmas has - perhaps against their will and better judgement - become a pagan festival of consumerism and mass consumption. We count the shopping days, we switch on Christmas lights and we travel increasing distances to ensure that we are fully provisioned for the festivities. The Christian festival of Christmas has become increasingly obliterated by materialism. The biblical evidence for the story of Christ's birth in a stable behind an inn, woven into countless nativity plays, is based on an account in only one of the four Gospels even though it is intended to confirm Christ's identity with the poor, the deprived and the marginalised members of society as well as wider creation represented by the animals. This context is, of course, frequently brought out in the depiction of the powerful nativity message that is given to young children. All of us at SCALA can consider different contexts for the story which might, for example, include the symbolic elements of hope, struggle and salvation.
Should we consider at Christmas those for whom the enforced jollity and brightness is an utter strain? Perhaps they have no families. Perhaps they live on the streets. Perhaps they are suffering in some way. Perhaps the future is uncertain for them. Perhaps they have been experiencing emotional conflicts that render them incapable of responding to any Christmas message. For school communities it is appropriate that they should give particular support to those whose difficulties make receiving any positive message about Christmas very hard. The incidence of emotional distress and suicide rises sharply over the Christmas period and is often revealed through domestic disagreement, when family members who have come together cannot take refuge in society's distractions and so cannot hide from themselves the difficulties they are encountering in their relationships.
We will all have very different hopes for Christmas. How will the inhabitants of Gaza or Kabul, disadvantaged people known to members of our school communities or the homeless on the streets of British towns and cities be facing Christmas? What thoughts should we hold for those across the world who may not celebrate Christmas but whose poverty and hardship stands in embarrassing contrast to the orgy of consumption that is the hallmark of so many affluent countries? We are now approaching an event historically celebrated by Christians as the taking of human form by God so that he could identify with our humanity. Christians believe that the birth of Christ is a sign of optimism for us. Christ's life on Earth was an example of how it is possible to bring love and joy and peace into our lives. Could we try to put ourselves in the shoes of those who are facing difficulties of all kinds and consider ways in which we could bring some love, joy and peace into their lives too?