Belfast Telegraph

Even the bustle of Christmas cannot hide its true message

By Alf McCreary

If there was a national referendum on Christmas, would a majority of people vote to abolish it, and opt for a long mid-winter pagan party, or would they still prefer its core Christian message which is what it really should be about?

It would be difficult to judge the outcome. Even in our own province, some local councils do not take the Christmas message too seriously.

For example councillors in Ballycastle seemed to lack the wit to provide a half-decent Christmas tree, and even in Belfast our outdoor Christmas tree is one of the poorest I have seen anywhere.

However, what can you expect from a city where the Christmas lights emblazon the message 'B-Festive', with not even a hint of the Bethlehem baby?

The pace of shopping in Belfast and its suburbs has now increased to the point where you begin to fear that after December 25 the world will end, and people want to do it all before then.

Have you looked at the faces of shoppers and commuters, and even of some corporate party-goers, and have you seen the joy and peace of Christmas spreading across their faces? Hardly likely.

Even in your own home, is there a sense of Christmas joy as you plan or complete your shopping, put up all the decorations, and finish your list of Christmas cards, including those that you send to some people simply because they have sent one to you?

So admit it, we all have our moments when we ask ourselves what is the point of it all.

Yet behind all the getting and spending when, as Wordsworth noted, "the world is too much with us", I would like to think that for most people there is an element of Christmas which they still cherish.

It may be still fond memories of days gone by, or the innocent beauty of school Nativity plays, most but not all of which get to the heart of the Christian message.

One of the places where you discover the essence of Christmas is a service of Lessons and Carols, or a performance of The Messiah, which the Ulster Orchestra and the Belfast Philharmonic did so well last weekend.

Sometimes the carols are done to death by the muzak in shopping arcades, but if you take the time to really listen to a proper performance of Hark The Herald Angels Sing or Silent Night, you begin to understand the depth and timeless beauty of the words and music. There is also much goodness that is evident at Christmas, with people going out of their way to deliver hampers, or to help the homeless, or to raise money for many worthy causes.

One of the most welcome signs of Christmas is the annual Black Santa sit-out at St Anne's Cathedral, which began nearly 40 years ago. The impact of the first Black Santa, Dean Samuel Crooks, brought rare good news to a city in the darkness of the Troubles, and it is heart-warming to watch his latest successor, Dean John Mann, carrying on that fine tradition.

For many, Christmas is also a time of dark memories of loneliness and loss, and we should keep these people in our thoughts.

Despite all the rushing, the challenges and the spending, however, this is still a precious time of the year, which we should continue to enjoy as much as we can. Life would not be the same without Christmas.

Happy Christmas everyone!   

Belfast Telegraph

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