A sharing and an offering by our minister, Rev Peter Fairbrother
'December will be magic again', it is said (and sometimes sung).
Generally speaking, I struggle with the colder weather, lack of light, and longer nights at this time of year.
I often find myself counting down the days to the Winter Solstice, breathing relief at its passing, and taking comfort is the slow, but sure return to brighter days.
And then shortly after Solstice...
Yes, indeed, Christmas..
about which I have mixed feelings.
As a religious festival celebrating the birth of Jesus, I find it a time of great hope and beauty. However, the secular celebration of Christmas in the form of frenzied consumerism, unbridled capitalism, and the subtle and not-so-subtle societal pressures to conform with 'customary festivities' leaves me cold. (Speaking of which, my susceptibility to colds and flu around Christmas appears heightened. I've lost count of the number of Christmases I've spent clutching a mug of Lemsip in one hand and a box of tissues in the other. I guess it’s my body's way of saying 'ENOUGH'!)
'BAH-HUMBUG!', as the cliché goes.
I know I'm not alone in struggling with the festivities. I know that many people find Christmas a difficult time of year. For some it is the challenge of being with celebrations that they don't connect with, and people they don't want to be with.
And it can also be a time that sharpens the edges of grief. For those living with bereavement it can be a hellishly lonely time to get through. And for those who choose to be on their own, the relentless social pressures of 'being-together-at-Christmas', and having a 'wonderful-family-Christmas' can make the whole thing feel pretty miserable.
And I'm sure you'll agree, family Christmases aren't always all they're cracked up to be...
Aged 20, I came out to my family at Christmas time. December 28th, 1992, to be precise. I remember it well. I chose the date with care: far enough away from the turkey and stuffing that I couldn't be accused of ruining the festivities; nor close enough to Hogmanay, lest my news smite the New Year ahead. And why my choice of date? The tantalising hope that I might, just might, be the beneficiary of some seasonal goodwill. Deep down, alas, I knew the news of my sexuality wouldn't be well received. And sadly, I wasn't disappointed.
Subsequently, as a young single adult I spent many Christmases alone. Many of my friends would head home to be with family, or they would spend it with their partner or other loved ones. This meant that I was often on my tod come Christmas Day. In the run-up to the festivities I used to dread the 'What are you doing for Christmas?' conversations. I soon learnt that disclosing one's intention of having a solitary holiday elicited unbridled waves of sympathy that I found simply unbearable, and so I quickly learnt ways of avoiding, pre-empting, and/or evading such conversations. And, if cornered, I learnt the art of giving the vague answer.
Sometimes concerned work colleagues would ask me to join them and their families for Christmas dinner. These were kind, genuine, and generous invitations, but I felt the recipient of pity in receiving them (even if the invitation wasn't offered in pity), and so I would often put on a brave face and graciously decline. Throughout, I would remind myself that the 25 December was simply another day, that I like my own company, and that there were lots of ways I could keep myself entertained. And whilst all of this were true, deep inside, if I'm honest, there was also the inescapable sense of feeling like a social failure because I wasn't spending Christmas cosied-in with family and friends like 'everyone else' (apparently).
I wish I could have shared with someone how I was feeling. That in itself would have eased the burden, and whilst it would not have ameliorated the feelings, it would have gone some way to help me carry what I was holding.
And so, in honouring this and all those who struggle with the festivities for whatever reason(s), an offering…
On Wednesday 19th December, from 6.30-7.30 pm, I'll be holding a heart circle in the Upper Hall of St Mark's - a safe place for us to meet, to be, to hold and acknowledge all that we're with as the festivities approach. Please note that this gathering is not a type of midweek 'Sunday service'; there will be no service structure, no collections or such things, indeed there will be no requirement to do anything other than to be with each other. We will sit in a circle by candlelight for an hour and honour what arises. This may be holding silence(s), it may be that some of us choose to share words to express how we're feeling, or cry, or scream, or play, or laugh, or sing... all will be honoured and all will be welcome. You are welcome. Afterwards, we'll have some refreshments before heading into the night. I hope you'll join us.
Dear friends, however you spend December and the first weeks of the New Year may you have a peaceful, restful and tender time.