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Editor's Viewpoint: The true meaning of Christmas will never be eclipsed by commercialism as long as spirit of goodwill shines brightly

Editor's Viewpoint

The switching-on of the Christmas lights in Belfast this evening will be a welcome sign of the times, but as Father Desmond O'Donnell has reminded us, the times themselves are a-changing.

He claims that the word 'Christmas' has lost its meaning because of commercialism and other factors.

He is not against people enjoying the party spirit, but he admits: "I'm just trying to rescue the reality of Christmas for believers, by giving up 'Christmas' and replacing it by another word."

Father O'Donnell is advising Christians to embrace the Nativity, while leaving all the revelry to non-believers.

His remarks, reported in this newspaper yesterday, may prove controversial, but Christmas today is very different from what it was in the past.

Yet its commercialism is good for traders in tough times who rely on the seasonal bustle and longer opening hours to help their income.

The Christmas advertising, however, seems to have less and less to do with the central Christian message, and political correctness is such that some people might want to replace "Happy Christmas" with "Happy Holidays".

As people's lives become more stressful they may be looking on Christmas as merely a timely break.

It is good that Fr O'Donnell has started this debate, in the same way that Canon Timothy Kinahan challenged the Church this week on how it has treated gay people.

Nevertheless, the basic Christmas message of goodwill is being carried out practically by the many people who look after the homeless and helpless, as well as their neighbours.

Already one restaurant in Belfast has promised to help those in need.

It is right that we should be challenged to ask ourselves what Christmas really is all about.

It would be wrong to write off the traditional Christmas just yet, and it must be allowed and encouraged to shed its own gentle light on a busy and often dark secular world.

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