By Isabelle Boyd
At this time of year our thoughts are filled with childhood memories of
warm, happy family Christmas outings to the pantomime. We remember the
unsuspecting hero being offered three wishes by a genie or fairy godmother. I
don’t have three wishes to give you but I do have three things I wish were true
this festive season.
I wish Christ were at the heart of Christmas. Much has been written about the commercialisation and consumerism around Christmas. There’s little we can do to halt that juggernaut. However, we can take individual actions to ensure we keep Christ in the season.
In our Catholic schools we find prayerful carol services, advent
reflections, charitable works and of course the Nativity play. I love the story
told of the primary school who had entitled their nativity ‘Born in a Barn’.
They worked hard and had successful rehearsal after rehearsal and erected a
wonderful sign above the manger. It was most unfortunate that just before
curtain up, the N fell off the end of the sign! You can imagine the initial
shock but then the laughter at Born in a Bar.
It’s really ok to have a laugh.
However, it’s not ok to be made fun of – or to have fun made of what we hold sacred. This is what vexes me most about the onslaught of commercialisation of Christmas. The replacing of Christ with an X is disrespectful. The diversification of a leading retailer’s confectionery from an innocent bag of Percy Pig sweets to a Pigmas range is disgraceful. The list goes on and encapsulates the secularisation of our society and the drive to keep Christ out of Christmas.
But we keep Christ in Christmas in our homes by having an advent wreath. It reminds us of hope, faith, joy and peace and as each candle is lit, we are reminded that Jesus is the Light of the World.
Keep Christ in Christmas by counting down the days with an advent calendar depicting traditional nativity scenes rather than any Percy or Peppa pig and by sending cards celebrating the birth of Christ rather than happy holidays.
The Advent wreaths and calendars help to remind us we are on a journey to Christmas – to the birth of Jesus Christ.
Preparing for Christmas involves another journey – making our homes warm and festive, planning family events and special occasion meals and the giving and receiving of gifts.
I am comfortable balancing both of these journeys, as they both have charity, love and reflection at their heart.
I wish it were true about Santa Claus. I vividly remember the conversation with my daughter. She started it. I confirmed it. She cried. Yet, we spent the next 20 years pretending – because Santa is true in our hearts and in the wonder and awe of Christmas. Real magic can be found around Santa Claus. Look at the faces – and in particular – at the wide-eyed wonderment of children at Christmas time. They are perfect pictures of wonder and awe. It’s magical. They shine with hope, love and innocence. Who would not want that to be true everyday for all of us? I think Santa Claus allows all of us to relive cherished childhood, to show love and compassion and celebrate happiness with family and friends.
If Santa was true then there would be no child or family left behind. There would be no need for charity or donations of toys and gifts. Save the Children estimate that 1.3 million families in the UK will rely on food parcels this Christmas. We are the world’s fifth-richest country, yet it is estimated that one in five people still go hungry – including thousands of children.
Many families pressurized by the consumerism around Christmas put themselves into debt and often have not cleared last year’s Christmas spending before this one begins. If only we had a Santa Claus.
My third wish is around actions speaking louder than words. I wish leaders sending greetings wishing for peace, happiness and brighter futures took action rather than give kind words. 7000 Downing Street Christmas cards, depicting the PM’s dog, landed on doorsteps this week. Our First Minister sends around 2500 cards with a short message of the “Warm wishes for a safe and happy festive season” variety.
These messages are replicated across political and civic society at a time when families are struggling with homelessness or having to make the dreadful choice between heating or eating. According to government figures, 11,804 children were in households assessed as homeless in 2020-2021. This is equivalent to 32 children in Scotland becoming homeless every day. We hear phrases like ‘excess winter deaths’ and pay little attention. These are citizens dying because they cannot heat their homes or bodies.
I wish leaders and governments would act with integrity and courage to find solutions to world problems. The cut to UK overseas aid has drastic consequences for the most vulnerable. International agencies tell us their work in Syria has been crippled by a 75% funding cut. In Yemen, regarded as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, our government cut relief by over 36%.
Actions speak louder than words. Policies really are a matter of life or death. We need to stand with our poorest brothers and sisters at home and abroad.
Just think if these three things were true, it could be Christmas every day with the love of Christ felt by all through our prayers, our actions and our friendship.
Isabelle Boyd is an Education Consultant at Cor ad Cor and a former Catholic Headteacher.