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Let's enjoy Christmas and end these attempts to destroy the beauty of it

By Alf McCreary

At the end of the first week of Advent, may I wish you all 'A Happy Winterfest', instead of a 'Happy Christmas'. This might seem odd, but sadly our society is now so deeply in the baleful grip of political correctness that some people cannot bear to use the word 'Christmas' in case others think them people of the Christian faith.

The situation is so bad that Britain's equality chief has advised employers not to worry about offending people of other faiths with their Christmas parties or cards.

David Isaac, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, told the Sunday Times it was important to take a "common sense approach" when dealing with this subject.

He stated: "Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right, and it shouldn't be suppressed through fear of offending. Lots of employers have now become really worried about doing anything discriminatory regarding their Muslim or Jewish staff."

Another expert on community affairs, Dame Louise Casey, said the celebration of Christmas was among many well-respected British traditions and that it needed to be defended to help prevent social divisions.

She referred to a "well-meaning" manager of a community centre who kept referring to a Christmas tree as a 'festive tree' for fear of offending Muslim workers.

There may be some people like this over here, but the people of Northern Ireland from all backgrounds still retain a healthy respect for their neighbours, while also celebrating the joy and bustle of Christmas.

Last Sunday I attended the Evensong at St George's Church in High Street, Belfast, which took the form of an Advent Carol Service.

As I walked towards the church during the late afternoon of another crisp but lovely mid-winter day, the city was bustling with shoppers and also radiant in the glow of Christmas lights and festooned shop windows.

It was hard to recognise this peaceful and lively city from the place I had known, and worked in, during the worst of the Troubles.

I was thankful for all the progress that has been made since then, as I watched people shopping around. Nevertheless, I was reminded that afternoon of the real meaning of Christmas which lay at the heart of the Advent Carol Service.

This is something which St George's does particularly well, and as I shared in the hymns and listened to the ancient readings, and music from the excellent choir and organist, I realised how much this church has been witnessing at the heart of the city for the past 200 years.

It is situated in a location where Christians have worshipped for many centuries, and since its establishment in 1816 it has made an important contribution to the local community and also to the rich musical life of the city.

This story is well told in a new book which is being launched next Thursday in St George's. It is written by Professor Brian Walker and beautifully designed by Wendy Dunbar, and it adds to the story of rich and varied development of our city.

There are many other churches which continue to spread the Christian message, year in and year out, and at Christmas they play a particularly important role in reminding us of the true value of the season.

The words and music of Christmas, whether in Handel's Messiah or in the countless candlelit carol services in churches of all denominations, should continually be cherished as part of the bedrock of our civilisation.

It is so easy to allow ourselves to be caught up in the commercial frenzy from Black Friday to Christmas, but there is much more to be thoughtfully enjoyed at this time of year.

Anyone who tries to demote Christmas to a merely 'Festive' season or an updated 'midwinter celebration' is entirely missing the point.

The season of Christmas is here to be enjoyed and shared by everyone, and long may it last.

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