Editor's Viewpoint: Christmas message remains sacrosanct despite materialism
After the long run-up throughout December, Christmas Day is upon us. We are used to the traditionalists decrying the commercialisation of Christmas, and regretting that our materialistic tendencies fly in the face of the commemoration and symbolism of Christ's birth.
Nevertheless, since Primark's Bank Buildings were destroyed in August we have been relying, collectively and individually, on that reality of materialism as a lifeline to save the retail economy of Belfast, and also a large part of Northern Ireland.
The interaction, indeed tension, between the two mindsets is understandable.
The Bank Buildings blaze led to a huge disruption in the city's commercial life, which affected a wide circle of businesses well beyond the immediate area.
Indubitably, the city centre retail sector is a vital engine of the wider economy and employs thousands of people.
The potential for paralysis in the business and commercial centre of the city following the fire meant that every tool possible had to be used to preserve and stimulate the retail sector.
Fortunately, nobody died or was injured in the blaze, but the dire threat to businesses and livelihoods was existential.
In recent days, however, there has been an upsurge of hope. The creation of a tunnel to link the main parts of the city in the area of Bank Buildings has been a success and people have thronged in to the heart of Belfast to complete their Christmas shopping.
In doing so they have brought light and life to the centre of the business area and have shown the resilience of Belfast and its people. This is no mean city, and the atmosphere now in the city centre has to be appreciated at first-hand to understand the range of the resurgence of footfall and spending potential.
However, while the necessary concentration on Mammon is understandable - and while Belfast's streets now thronged with Christmas shoppers brings a sense of relief - this commercialisation must not be allowed to take precedence over the essential and immutable meaning of Christmas itself.
The very word Christmas is a shortened version of 'Christ's Mass', or 'Cristes Maesse', as it was first recorded in 1038. The term Christ comes from the Greek word 'Khristos', a translation of the Hebrew word 'Messiah', which means 'anointed'.
Thus despite the best efforts of many people to sell Christmas as an orgy of gift-getting and over-indulgence, its religious roots are still very clear.
Insofar as we are still a Christian society (or a society conditioned by Christian norms), we celebrate Christmas as the birth of the Saviour who entered the world and became one with us, so that he might deliver us from our sins.
Christians believe that Jesus is not just any man or any historical figure, but in effect God Himself in flesh.
Through dying on the cross for our sins, Jesus saved us from the righteous judgement of God and paved the way to eternal life.
While the recovery in Belfast's bruised retail fortunes is greatly to be welcomed, and while Christians and non-Christians alike delight in the giving and receiving of presents and the general merriment and joy of the Christmas period, we are reminded of the words of Jesus Christ Himself in the Gospel of Mark's King James version: "For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
We wish you all a happy and a peaceful Christmas.