Garth George: Celebration of hope and happiness

By Garth George

Even if the Pope is right and the birth of Christ didn't come on the day or in the year that historians and theologians have always believed, it doesn't matter one whit. We have celebrated Christ's birth on December 25 for centuries, and will continue to do so at least until he returns.

There is something extra special about Christmas. There is a universality to it that sets it apart from other seasonal celebrations. And nothing can overshadow the anticipation, the excitement, the ambience of Christmas.

With its theme, passed down from generation to generation, of peace on Earth and goodwill to Mankind, it is the one time of the year that brings all the nations, at least of the Western world, together in a common celebration, be it of the birth of Christ, of another year survived, of the beginning of a long holiday, of reunions with family, or simply of the opportunity to shuck off the cares of the world, relax, give and receive gifts, eat, drink and be merry.

It is in particular, and always has been, a time for children. For most it is breathlessly looked forward to the giving (but mainly receiving) of presents; for a relaxing of rules; for a surfeit of sweets without having to eat veges first; for visits from or to seldom-seen relatives; for holidays away from home, new friendships, new adventures.

But, sadly, it would be dishonest not to admit that for many it will be a time of disappointment, of hardship, even of terror, because there is no Christmas tree or Santa Claus, no money for presents and a festive board provided by charity; because mum and dad aren't together anymore; because, perhaps, there is violence or abuse in the home.

Like nearly all religious festivals, Christmas has over the centuries become an inextricable mixture of the sacred and the secular. And that is what gives it, in this ever-diminishing world, its special and lasting significance.

For, with its unchanging theme of peace on Earth and goodwill to all people, it can be celebrated by everyone, irrespective of race, colour, creed or religious belief. That is its universal and eternal appeal.

Thirteen years ago I was sent a copy of a letter written by a young lad to his grandparents just before Christmas.

I was going through some files the other day when I came across it and was much taken by the fact that his words are as pertinent today as they were then.

In the letter, headed How Could I Bless the World? Ben Candler, then aged 11 and living at Matakana, wrote: "When I say this I think that most of us are the same. Well, this Christmas I know that I have been thinking about me and my family and sometimes thinking that it's not fair that I have to wait until Christmas for my Game Boy.

"But that's enough about me ... Here are some of the presents I would like for others: "Happiness for the sad and food for the hungry; in this world people die every second.

"More hospitals for the ill, peace for the war-ridden, fresh water for the dehydrated.

"Families for those with none or good orphanages for those with no families.

"A pollution-free world, education for a better life, land and cattle, jobs for the jobless and no more drug abuse.


"Shelter for the homeless, beds for the bedless, trees for oxygen, clothes for the naked, places to pray in. And, last of all, to see tomorrow ..."

I have never read a more precise description of the complexities and contrasts, the yearnings and realities of the festive season.

Thus did the wisdom of a child reveal to me the true spirit of Christmas.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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