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Daughter and Grandsons

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Brothers behaving badly

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Grandma opening presents

A merry Christmas to you, and a happy one, a wonderful one, a special one, a blessed one, a grateful one, a family one, and even a thoughtful one; but most of all, a merry one, and a forgiving one.
I hope you don’t have a lonely one.

You may have noticed I tend to run off at times and gnash my teeth over this and that in my blogs. I have a keen eye for failings in others. Have you noticed? I have 20-20 vision in matters of taste, values and desirable behaviour, and if I’m not careful, before I realise it, I can set myself up as judge and jury in my writing. It’s easier for me to be critical than to be affirming. Pointing out shortcomings in others comes naturally to me. You want to know what’s wrong with the world? You come to me. In short, I think I can say with some modesty that I am a social critic par excellence.
You may have noticed.
So instead of any one of a number of rants that come to mind, here is something a little different this morning.

It’s nearly Christmas. The Sun is high overhead, the temperature is already in the high 20s celsius, the cicadas are rehearsing their chorus and its still before 8am. People are heading for the beach or the air-conditioning of the shopping centres (which reminds me I had better not leave my last minute food shopping too late or there will be no parking places left). An Australian Christmas; the sort I know best.

For Sue and I the routine is pretty much set in stone. We have an early Christmas get together with my extended family each year on the Sunday before Christmas. It’s just too hard to fit everybody into Christmas Day. We sing Christmas Eve carols at our church, where unlike most Sundays, every seat is filled. On Christmas morning it is a tradition for us play Handel’s Messiah loudly in our house. It sort of complements the celebration mood of the day. Then we go to church and run away immediately afterwards to make it to Christmas lunch on time, just like everyone else.

Just like everyone else? I’m not so certain. I know for more than a few people, Christmas is a lonely time with painful memories. It is a time to be endured, while looking from the outside in to the joyous celebrations of other families. For these people, it is a time of feeling the need to wear a smile while feeling empty and desolate inside.

I guess I’d better start with me, since I am the person I know best. I am surrounded by plenty, love, and warmth at Christmas time. I don’t feel empty and desolate. I feel included and blessed. There was a time however when things were different, and there are still reminders that wait for their opportunity; little lurking reminders that tug at my sleeve, especially at Christmas.
Christmas is made for families. Without a family it presents special challenges. While I suspect all families have dysfunctional streaks here and there, and these often surface to cause mayhem at Christmas get-togethers, try doing Christmas without a family and you will know acutely what I mean. Try doing Christmas after you have walked out of a marriage. Try doing Christmas when you can’t have your children with you. Try doing Christmas when it’s just you sitting at a table, wondering how you will fill the day and feeling completely alone. And I haven’t even started on those who feel this way at Christmas for a whole range of other reasons.

Such experiences are a long time in the past for me. They no longer shape my Christmas experience, but neither have they left me completely unaffected. In my case they were self inflicted. I learned eventually to accept them as the price of choices I had made, but they were no less punishing for all that. They had an upside though. Just like green shoots emerging from the blackened ground after a summer bush fire, I have grown some empathy for lonely people that I would not have had otherwise; especially at Christmas time.

So for those whose children are not with them this Christmas; whose families are in pieces; whose lives are in turmoil; I pray for peace for you and stillness in your heart. I pray that you will realise that you matter and that you will rediscover love and light in your life.
For those who do not have someone to hug them; for those who cannot see the light that surrounds them; I pray that someone hugs you and opens your eyes to all that Christmas means.

One other thing about Christmas that I may as well get off my chest. One of my childhood memories involves being gently discouraged from using the term “Merry Christmas”, and being steered towards using “Happy Christmas”. I don’t remember my parents being too bothered one way or the other, but at the Methodist Sunday School I attended “Merry” definitely had conotations of imbibing too much alcohol or of some other less than savoury pastime. I still occasionally encounter a gentle, but fading, consciousness in certain pious circles that is not all that comfortable with “Merry Christmas” as a greeting. Well, for what it’s worth, I think otherwise. My God is the God of celebration, of love, of enjoying time together. My God would rather pick us up after we have stumbled (or maybe imbibed too much) than see us trapped in timidity and pious correctness. My God wants us to live life in all its richness. That is the way He has created us.
That does not mean you need to drink alcohol. You can have a merry Christmas without it. Just don’t think for a minute my God is impressed with pious self righteousness.

So, as far as it is possible, and not forgetting to remain responsible, have a Merry Christmas.

God bless you.

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