I wrote earlier about my fondness for Advent. But that doesn’t mean I look forward to Christmas Day with unbridled happiness, even though I know I have much to be thankful for.
I hope for a pleasant day with family, nice food, time to relax, some decent gifts. In practice, I know I’ll be donating some of my presents to the local charity shop, and people to whom I’ve given presents will be thinking the same, despite the time I spent choosing something for them. If lunch is at my house, a lot of time will be spent in the kitchen, where it will likely get panicky at some point. There may be spillages, passive aggression and headaches by early evening. Whatever happens, it won’t be perfect.
Some people full on hate Christmas. It’s stressful. It brings back painful memories. It means they have to spend time with people who give them nervous twitches. Or it emphasises how alone they are. Incidents of domestic violence increase at Christmas.
It would be wrong to simplify the causes of these issues, but I think some of them are in small part to do with the pressure we feel to get it right. To buy the perfect presents. To create a delicious feast. To have fun. To be happy. To be surrounded by happy people.
For me, Christmas day is like a wedding day. Much time is spent on the preparation. The food. The decorations. The schedule for the day.
But what if things go wrong, or just aren’t as perfect as you’d planned? The food’s bland, there’s an argument five minutes into Monopoly, a relative has not attempted to hide their disappointment at your gift to them, you’re feeling a bit peaky.
None of this is cool. Of course we want things to go smoothly on our special day, but it’s good to remember that Christmas day, like a wedding day, is both a culmination and a beginning. A wedding is the result of a couple’s commitment to one another and the beginning of their life together in marriage. In Christianity, Christmas Day is a fulfilment of a promise, but is the beginning of much more, of hope.
So if the day itself is not the Country Life magazine cover you’d hoped for, it’s OK. It doesn’t change what it represents. That still stands. If a wedding day doesn’t turn out brilliantly, the marriage still stands.
If your problems are more serious, if you are lonely or facing abuse or sickness or loss or other troubles, that is not OK. It is not OK at any time of the year. If Christmas prompts you to do anything, let it be to get the help you need. If there is any message you take from Christmas, let it be that of hope. Even if it’s the tiniest flickering flame.
Below are details of some UK-based organisations that may be of help if you are struggling. Details of your local ones should be online.
If there’s something troubling you, get in touch with them.
Phone: 116 123 FREE to call from mobiles and landlines 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you need a response immediately, it’s best to call on the phone.
National Domestic Violence Helpline
Run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge
Phone: 0808 2000 247 FREE to call, 24 hours a day
Citizens Advice Bureau
For financial matters and a range of other issues get in touch with your local branch.
www.citizensadvice.org.uk (website for England, with links for rest of UK)
Christians Against Poverty
If you are struggling with financial worries, get in touch with your local branch. This service is open to all, not just Christians.