One thing to happen on Saturday was my daughter’s birthday. You can read about that in yesterday’s post. Of course, the other big announcement came at 4pm (or, rather, it was supposed to be 4 but – as is his wont – Boris turned up in his own sweet time, rather giving the impression he holds the rest of us in contempt). That announcement was the one that meant – as far as may were concerned, including my mother when I rang her afterwards – that Christmas is now cancelled.
I totally understand the sentiment. For many, Christmas is about seeing family, gift giving and sharing food together. Unless your extended family live around the corner from you (mine don’t), it’s very much a nuclear family affair this year. For a lot of people that really isn’t any sort of Christmas at all.
Others were mainly concerned about the timing of the thing. My wife said – and I’ve heard a number of others express a similar sentiment – she had geared herself up not to see anybody this year. It’s not what she would ordinarily aim for, but it was the reality to which she had come to terms. But the announcement of the five day relaxation – along with the doubling down from the government when pressed on their insistence that ‘to cancel Christmas would be inhuman’ and the mockery of Keir Starmer suggesting they were being cavalier, only to turn around and do what he said – made matters worse. Everybody got their hopes up. Plans were made. Then, the government decided – long after plans had been made and money extended – that they were reneging on their promise. For many, that was far worse than announcing Christmas was cancelled from the get-go. I have a lot of sympathy with that view.
But of course, Christmas isn’t going to be cancelled this year. It might not be the kind of Christmas we were all hoping for, but it is still going ahead. Mainly because you can’t cancel a person. My son and my daughter have both endured lockdown birthdays this year, but nobody could stop them being a year older and the anniversary of their births arriving – COVID or no COVID. Likewise, Jesus might be getting a lockdown birthday this year too, but you can’t cancel a person. Jesus remains the one God sent into the world to save his people from their sin. Jesus was still born 2000 years ago and the implications of his coming into the world are still as vital as they ever were, whether we are able to hops on trains and visit our family or not.
The disappointment many of us have about the apparently cancelled Christmas probably says more about our own idols than anything else. We place our store by family, gifts or – dare our say – our children’s happiness. If Christmas isn’t perfect (as we judge perfection) it is ruined. If we can’t see family, or the gifts we get don’t land, or our children aren’t totally happy with how the day pans out, Christmas has been a dud.
But just as Christmas can’t be cancelled because Christ still came, so Christmas shouldn’t be ruined because some of our gifts didn’t land, the food wasn’t A-1 and we didn’t see our family. The gift we should be aiming to give each other this Christmas – perhaps our children most of all – isn’t happiness per se, that will never come through a single day, but Christ. Interestingly, the way to true happiness is to give up pursuing it as an end in itself, and recognise that it will be found only in and through the person of Jesus as a by-product of our faith in him. Christmas might be totally different this year, but if we find Christ or – those of us who already know him are caused to refocus our thoughts and attentions onto him afresh – far from being ruined, it might prove to be one of the best Christmases we’ve ever had.