A Real Meaning of Christmas Present

After weeks of anticipation, shopping expeditions and gift wrapping Christmas Day has come and gone, probably much to the relief of many mothers with small children who will have been subjected to an onslaught of pleas and entreaties from children who have been seduced by the adverts all around for the latest must have toy or gadget. Some of those toys will have been discarded by now but may still have to be paid for when the credit card bills drop on to the doormat in the new year causing unnecessary worry and possibly hardship for parents who already have enough to worry about.

Seasonal food and drink, bought in abundance in the weeks before and considered a bargain with 2 for 1or half price offers, will have been consumed, or left in the fridge to go past the sell by date, and probably enjoyed at the time will be be looked on as a guilty pleasure when the scales show the pounds piled on and the waistband that won't fasten and the New Year resolution is yet another gym membership or the latest diet ! Alot of us don't realise how many empty calories there are in a couple of glasses of wine and as for the cream liqueur in the mid morning coffee, which has to be accompanied by a mince pie, there goes half of our daily requirement of calories. It is a sobering thought indeed that some of our world's population would not consume that number of calories in two days.

Religious observance of Christmas is practised in many household with carol services, midnight Mass and nativity plays and enjoyed by those whose place of worship attendance is mainly at this time and those who attend regularly. We leave the place of worship with a rosy glow and feeling of goodwill but do we really continue in this mood? This was brought home to me very sharply this Christmas season when walking to my local church for a carol service. It was a wet, cold night and I was approached, very politely, by 2 young men in their thirties who asked if I could help them. They explained that all the refuges were full and they had only had a small kebab between them and would I buy some food for them. They did not ask for money. I took hold of their hands, they were so cold. They were totally honest and explained that they did have alcohol problems which they were addressing and the embarrassment on their faces was plain to see. I took them to the local takeaway and bought food for them. Their gratitude was touching and I gave them a hug and carried on to church. During the service and afterwards at the hospitality I could not get those 2 young men out of my mind. To think that less than 500 yards were people with nothing, even my dogs have warm beds and plenty of food. Some may call me a fool or a soft touch but if they were conning me then that is their problem not mine. Maybe they had chosen to sleep rough, I don't know, but I will never forget the looks on their faces.

On Christmas Eve I went to Vigil Mass and on Christmas morning I went with my children and grandchildren to Morning Mass. It was beautiful and I left the church feeling happy only to see less than 50 yards away a man sleeping in a cardboard box in a doorway and all thoughts of joy left me. I felt angry that on such a day and in a prosperous area some members of our society are marginalised and homeless possibly through no fault of their own and the saying 'There but for the grace of God go I' really hit home. I am lucky, I have a home, food , a bed and a family and I am thankful for all that but only too aware that in the commercialism of Christmas the true meaning is forgotten.

As for Christmas presents, yes I had more than enough, but my best present of all was priceless and yet cost very little! My Muslim friends, Beena and her family had returned to their home in UAE for a holiday but due to circumstances beyond their control were unable to return to England. We were very upset for we had become very close. On Christmas afternoon I got a phone call and a child's voice said said 'Happy Christmas, we love you and miss you very much'. It was 4 year old Saleem! I was speechless for a few seconds then his mummy took the phone and I am not ashamed to admit that we were both in tears. We are so different in many respects - age , race, culture ,religion - the factors that some may say are divisive and yet these are some of the very things that bind us together. We are sisters under the skin both striving to understand and appreciate different cultures and finding deep down that we are very similar.At a time when the news on the radio told of bombing of a catholic church in Nigeria allegedly by a radical islamic group, Christmas greetings from a Muslim family were very precious. We talked for a while littering our conversation with 'Please God' and 'Insh'Allah' and the miles between us melted away. To me that telephone call embodied the true spirit of Christmas - Peace on earth and goodwill to all men irrespective of race, colour or creed.

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