“A HARD TIME we had of it”. The gripe which TS Eliot put into the mouths of Persian astronomers, travelling during the dead of winter to search for a newborn in a distant land, seems to sum up much of the modern Christmas experience in our culture.
This hard time though, is now largely of our own making – a journey in search of the illusion that rushing around to the point of utter frazzlement in search of the perfect Christmas, is somehow indispensable to our well-being and happiness.
At this time of the year when our physical resources are at a low ebb and the hours of daylight at their shortest, the advertising and retail industries take an extraordinary and debilitating hold on our lives. The strain of queueing, parking, purchasing, and preparation mounts. So does anxiety and irritation
It is reasonable to ask what is the driving force here, particularly during a cost of living crisis which is leaving many people cold, hungry and even homeless. A longing to somehow reclaim childhood Christmases seems the common factor.
The casts of our past Christmases are changed by so many factors – loss, distance and time shape all realities and to fail in acknowledging this is to risk the deformation of sentiment by sentimentality. The Nativity narrative tells of the fragility of being human. None of it makes sense without that central truth.
Making this understanding our own may be painful. The challenge of trying to live in our own present rather than in a half-remembered nostalgia, surrounded by the all too present fantasy world of advertising, is difficult. But it does offer an invitation: to take the first steps away from expensive, self-inflicted strain and the weariness of body and spirit which come with it, by attending to what is here and to what may yet be hidden elsewhere. That might be found over the next 12 days or in an as yet unseen future.
The Nativity myth – that is, a story told about truth – invites me to reflection on the Love “that moves the sun and other stars” and its strange transformative presence within the much loved and often abused story. It is an invitation to keep this time with greater simplicity and to be open-hearted and open handed.
Peace be with us.
© Jill Segger (England) is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, The Catholic Herald, Tribune, The Friend and Reform, among other publications. Her acclaimed book Words Out of Silence was published by Ekklesia in 2019. She is an active member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Jill became an honorary associate director in 2010 and is now Ekklesia’s Contributing Editor. She is also a musician and has been a composer. Her recent columns are available here and her pre-2021 articles can be found here. You can follow Jill on Twitter: @quakerpen