Advent Firesiders

Family affairs (2017)

I used to be puzzled by the extent to which non-Christians agonised over who would visit whom on Christmas Day, a particularly difficult problem with so many families split by multiple partnerships and separations. I mean, I used to say to myself, why all the fuss. They can meet each other any time they like. What's so special about Christmas Day?

The answer is, of course, that Christmas Day is the family day of the year, to us what Thanksgiving is for Americans; we have to have one day of the year for the family and, their being only one, the rationing effect kicks in. If there's only one the value is high and how you spend your value says a lot about your priorities which is why the subject is so delicate; a poor calculation can look like a brutal snub.

Having recognised this, I now feel the pain of people who want to do their best for everyone in the process of which they must feel their own pain, whether from guilt at breaking a relationship or resentment at having a relationship broken, feelings which must become even more complex if there has been more than one broken relationship; and, then again, particularly if there are children involved.

Thus, I am sorry for all the pain that Christmas causes but in a strange way it makes me glad; better that there is some pain caused by fractured relationships than there is no pain at all. Mental suffering fulfils the same function for the psyche as physical suffering for the flesh; we need to be warned when things are not as they should be. It is, perhaps, too much to expect such pain to act as a deterrent but at least it is a reminder.

I only wish, having gone through all the pain to make the best possible arrangements for pleasing as many people as possible, that the Christ Child is given just a little attention, given the time to sooth, to calm the over-heated emphasis on food and presents; but it's one of the ironies, as far as appearances go, at least, that the people who need calm most are the ones least open to it. I hope I’m wrong and that Jesus finds ways of providing support to those who need it most.