At the top of my favourite Christmas song list sits John Lennon’s ‘War is Over’.
So this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun
I’ll tell you why it’s my number 1 shortly. I quite like some of the traditional Carols: my favourite carol being In the bleak mid-winter. I like it for what it evokes in me emotionally: along with other carols, it carries me back to times in my life when I had a stronger sense of innocence and when Christmas was full of fun and laughter. Both of my parents were from very large families, and their siblings also had large families. So, Christmas time was let’s get together and party time. Most times it went for a whole week finishing with New Year’s Day. No one’s home was big enough to host a gathering of the clan – too many children and cousins, as well as ‘honorary’ members of the family – so between them they would hire a local hall. It was a time of games and dancing, card-playing, eating and laughter. Late mornings and late nights. It was so much fun. Often, there would be snow with snowman competitions and snowball ‘fights’. Open fires and open hearts.
To a young child transitioning into a teenager, this was a magic period.
But it was only later in life that memory ‘fragments’ pieced together with hindsight helped me to realise that behind this week of Christmas cheer, a deeper reality was also at work. Aunty Maisie, the life and soul of any party, was going through a divorce. Nana Kit was seriously ill. Cousin Rita who I thought was throwing up because she’d drunk too much – had morning sickness. Rita was 16. Uncle Vic, the comedian of the clan, was up to his eye-brows in debt. And big Jim, dear big Jim from the Scottish line of the ‘family’ had just retired from the Scots Guards, and was telling everyone who would listen that his son was going to play soccer for Aston Villa.
Christmas for our family wasn’t a religious thing ( apart from the annual carol service at Kings College long before it became a televised event) but at its heart sat things like love, generosity, inclusion, and the joy of being together. Those things were part of daily life, but Christmas provided a reason for doing those things on a grand scale.
Of course, Christmas is a faith story set within a pagan festive season but at it’s heart it’s a story about the reality of people’s lives. The ups and downs; the highs and lows of life. The unexpected as well as the anticipated. Tension and release. The hunger for joy and hope.
It’s been a strange year – tough in many respects and liberating in others. As a faith community we will celebrate Christmas again this year. We will gather for a night of carols and on Christmas Day take time to remember the family and the context into which Jesus was born. It has become a Holy Story but it started out as a human story with a divine message. A story about real life and real faith. The ‘unimportant’ hearing the good news before anybody else. The ‘unwelcome’ being welcomed. The ‘least’ in society being visited by angels. Greatness hidden within humility. The Christmas story is a turning everything upside down story. Out of suffering emerges great hope.
Which is why I love John Lennon’s So this is Christmas. It deals with reality. For what it’s worth, this is my favourite verse.
And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let’s stop all the fight.
Now, wouldn’t that turn the world upside down.
Peace be with and within each of us .