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A different kind of Christmas

Andrew Frere-Smith reminds us that not everyone in our society is able to enjoy a happy and joyful Christmas-time.

“Dinner is ready!” is perhaps the most welcome pronouncement in my home on Christmas Day. It signals the start of a wonderful meal in great company amongst close family and friends. A banquet that is never rushed but always savoured. A meal like no other. Sitting side-by-side around an extended circular table decorated with candles and crackers, we select from a spread more abundantly supplied than on any other day. And we share stories. They are well known, rehearsed every year and drawn from a vast store of embarrassing incidents to laugh over. It’s a magnificent meal of fellowship, joy, laughter and acceptance.
You may be thinking that the meal is the best part of my Christmas Day, but actually it’s the presents. There is a child in me that still loves the afternoon when the presents are distributed. Although I know I should say the opposite, it is receiving rather than giving that I like best!
We have to wait until parents, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, children and grandchildren are all assembled in the lounge. Then labelled sacks are allocated, and each person receives one. Approximately six presents are found inside. I love it! I normally force myself to wait until everyone has opened theirs before I begin on mine. The anticipation and excitement build. My heart races! And this, even though all my gifts come from a list that I compiled myself only a few weeks before! I know what I’m going to get and still I’m captivated. Gifts are great!
Two years ago, I interviewed a guest at the night shelter in King’s Lynn. She told me she had woken up one Christmas Day under a tarpaulin outside Argos. The rain had been dripping down her back. She was uncomfortable, hungry and sad. She wanted to spend it with her family. She wanted to have Christmas at home. She wanted to be the mother who could provide for her children. She wanted to be ‘normal’.
Last winter, we arranged for the night shelter to open on Christmas Day. Plans were made to make it a very special family meal. Many volunteers turned out, including the mayor, and a lovely spread was prepared.
However, despite everyone’s considerable efforts, it was still tinged with sadness. One of the guests had been beaten up in the town centre and his pain was felt by all. Christmas should not be like this. It was another reminder to the guests that the security and safety of a home was still beyond reach.
Christmas is a wonderful celebration, but for many, Christmas is not ‘Glad tidings of comfort and joy’. It represents a very difficult time in a hostel, a hospital, in a loveless home or alone.
Maybe it’s time I took my eyes off myself and did Christmas differently.

The image above is courtesy of Dan Wirdefalk on pixabay.com.
This article has also appeared in Good News for Norwich and Norfolk, distributed free to many churches in the county.


AndrewFrereSmith750Andrew Frere-Smith is Development Worker for Imagine Norfolk Together, based in Kings Lynn.



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