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Brother Mark is a pseudonym of The Reverend Dr Robert Jaggs-Fowler, a clergyman, physician, writer and poet. His biography can be found at: www.robertjaggsfowler.com

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

In Search of the Meaning of Christmas

Christmas – a time of excitement for children, greatly anticipated and eagerly awaited for many weeks before. For many adults too, it is a time of joy and happiness; an opportunity to excel in excess without too much of a guilty conscience: ‘well, it is Christmas,’ is the excuse all too often heard. For some, it is not the same unless as many family and friends are invited to participate in a communal festivity. For others, it is spoiled by the absence of those very same people, with new cases of depression reaching a peak during the months of December and January.

Most of these peaks and troughs of emotion are fuelled year upon year by a common falseness of expectation. Whilst Charles Dickens did much to spread the concept of what is required for that cosy traditional Christmas, much loved by the Victorians and promulgated to this day from the fronts of thousands of greetings cards, he was also responsible for building people’s expectations of what the perfect Christmas should be like; to the point whereby any lesser experience is considered to be a failure.

I often wonder whether I am a lone voice in standing out against the falseness of all we have come to expect. I would not go as far as saying that I dislike Christmas – especially as I am in the process of experiencing one of the best I can remember from within my adult phase of life. However, I can remember, since early teenage years, having a recurrent sense of unease regarding the futility of most Christmas activities. Even then, the only parts of Christmas that really seemed to hold anything special for me were those parts where I was expected to be present at the local parish church by virtue of my membership of the choir. The Family Carol Service on Christmas Eve, followed by Midnight Mass and then the Christmas Day Morning Prayer were the events which most pleased me and gave me a true sense of belonging. Everything else paled into insignificance or, at worst, became a trial of endurance.

In order for me to have an enjoyable Christmas I need to escape the commercialisation, the artificial expectations of conformity to traditions, the moral pressures to be with family and thereby suffer numerous conversations about inane subjects about which I have no interest, have probably heard many times before, and really do not want to have again.

For me, Christmas is about regaining my inner self. It is the one time of the year where I want to step away from the world in which I spend the rest of my life pandering to the needs of others. It is a period of time when I want to stop giving and instead wish, quite selfishly, to take; and what I want to take is time itself – time for physical and mental rest, time for quiet reflection, time for the re-charging of my spiritual batteries and, of equally great importance, time for the re-affirmation of my love and commitment to the person who has chosen to accompany me through the rough seas of life – my wife.

As a Christian, I do not believe that my duty of care to my fellow man is just at this particular time of year. Effectively, it is throughout the other three hundred and sixty two days of the year. The rest of the world can have its share of my time and effort after these few days are over. In the meantime, being shut away in the peace and tranquillity of the English Lakes has given me the most relaxing and regenerating Christmas I could possibly desire. For the first time ever at this time of year, I feel content and at ease, not only with myself but also the world around me.

It may not be to everyone’s desire. However, if you ever suspect that you harbour something of the same feelings, have the courage to listen to that inner voice. Stop bowing to the pressures of the masses. Make your stand: refuse to send numerous pointless cards that will only end up in a rubbish bin in a few days time. Instead, make a donation to your favourite charity. Then take yourself and the person dearest to you to wherever you think you will find the peace your heart desires. The experience will be uplifting and change your view against conformity forever after. Your true friends will understand and will still be there on your return. What is more, you will be the much nicer person for it.

I know that I, for one, will be entering 2007 re-energised and with an enhanced sense of benevolence towards my fellow man. Now, surely that has everything to do with celebrating the birth of Christ?

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