Christmas in Gillingham Dorset

Christmas in Gillingham Dorset

Christmas is the occasion when a Christian will open his heart and give in kindness and gift, just as the Sura Baqra in Quran, in its very first Aayat says:

No doubt this is the book from God, It is a guide for the Parhezgar – the abstinent … who give from what God gave to them….

This Sura fixes no particular occasion to give, it depends upon the Muslims to give when they choose. But for the Christians, Christmas is the occasion when they open their hearts to give. This is to show their gratitude to God for sending them a Prophet - near the Christian world, God sent His son to help and guide mankind and for their salvation and deliverance from sin.

And the Christians have a responsibility, particularly on the occasion of the Christmas that the poor is not left uncared for, neglected and not lavished with food, care and gift.

I was comfortably placed in the Dartmouth College in Devon in 1953. I came from Pakistan for education and training and was invited by the Matthews family in Gillingham Dorset to pass Christmas with them in the Christmas of 1953. And what a nice first Christmas in England it was for me. The spirit to give, host nd show generosity is at its best at Christmas. And generosity is at the peak of its form, if it is enacted upon a stranger. And I was a stranger to the Matthews - my only connection with them was that I was sent to them at their beckoning by my college in Dartmouth. The college picked me up to go to be their guest and be with a Christian family and see the culture - the tradition and the hospitality of the English Countryside gentry. The pre-Christmas Nativity show I had seen at the college as a prelude of the Christmas festival and I was led to the events of Christmas.

I stayed with the Matthews for four days in Gillingham Dorset and each day of the stay was immaculately programmed by them to show their hospitality. They announced my schedule for the four days I was to stay with them as guest. There was High Tea in the evening at a family friend’s house on the 23rd, and Church attendance in the morning of the 24th at the Parish Church and visiting the barn where the new born calves were kept in the afternoon. The familiarisation with the custom came in the evening when the groups of farmers, harvesters and land tillers started coming one after the other to the door, who were received by the host. They came singing Christmas Carol and hymns and each group was obliged with a donation from the house. The hymns created the air of devotion and jolliness that was the peculiarity of the occasion of Christmas, it added an air of sublimity to the environs at the birth of the Christ. And the volunteering devotees kept the tradition of the occasion active and going and like friar they stood singing in choir. The rich in any society have a responsibility to see that the established traditions continue to flourish and what a nice family the Matthews were, standing to shoulder their responsibility.

The morning of the Christmas day was greeted with a mass at the Church and we sang hymns. The Christmas dinner was the main event of the day, the table was laid with the crackers and the head of the family Mr Matthews carved the turkey with its stuffing and put the carved meat in each plate and passed to the diners and each position on the table had its glasses which were filled with red wine[1] in the dim light. I was asked if yes or no and I said no, and the glasses were clinked and the dinner started. The Christmas cake was cut by the head of the family and fair size pieces passed to the diners. The Santa Claus had brought the gifts and the family gathered after the dinner in the living room and started to search for their presents, placed at the foot of the lit up and decorated Christmas tree. I was surprised when I also found that the Santa Claus had not forgotten me and had brought my present with everyone else of the family.

The programme for the Boxing Day was to follow the fox hunting. The patrons – the respectable club members met and the Master of the Foxhounds with his hounds of the pack of fifteen to twenty dogs led the team in bright red coats and blue- black caps saddled on the horse. The riders had gathered for the hunting and there was the bugle and the hunt of the fox started. The hounds chased the fox, sniffed and located it and the horses galloped and jumped over the hedges and the bushes.

The Christmas today is a much subdued festival. Most of the people say they do not go to Church and they are better off as atheists. But how can they be better off, if they are not contributing to their culture. They are living a life isolated from the main events in the life of the citizens and living only for themselves, not even having even a casual contact with God, their Creator, Who is just and fair and only helping, and standing with everyone. When all hopes dwindled, He was the gleam of hope and help. The atheists might be in need of such help and He is only asking them to believe in Him that He exists – that He sees and listens and disavows any guilt infested act.

The Prince of Wales has always been interesting and he is more interesting today for his growth in all directions of morality. John Bingham of The Daily Telegraph quotes this pleasing soul: Christianity is beginning to disappear in its own birth-place due to a wave of “organised persecution” across the Middle East.

But is it out of context to say that the Christianity is at peril in England also. There, every day atheists are popping up and greater number of Church goers are taking route different to the church. And it is because of less vigorous religiosity of the clergy of the church. Their sacrifice of passion is necessary to boost true Christianity with its culture of love and service to mankind.


Sayed Athar Husain

Afkar-e Shia


21. 12. 2013

[1] Sarah Knapton, Science Correspondent of The Daily Telegraph thinks, a daily glass of wine could be beneficial to health, moderate consumption boosts the immune system. “For the average person that has, say, a glass of wine with dinner, it does seem in general to improve health and cardiovascular function in particular.”

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