So, made it to and from the fair town of Southampton (infamous across the Pond for being the city that that rejected the Pilgrim Fathers) to catch up with family and exchange presents. It was good to catch up, especially with my sister, of whom I see far too little. Odd how we take such relationships for granted.
My darling wife managed to use the opportunity of my absence, and the absence of earlier mentioned madcap midgets (who were abducted by grandparents in an act of uncharacteristic spontaneous mercy) to get all the pressies wrapped, and actually have a sit down with Nigella Lawson (not in person, you understand - although having both domestic goddesses under one roof would fulfill a particular fantasy of mine - but let's not go there right now!)
My daughter has been getting very upset about the lack of presents under the tree for her, and was therefore very excited to come home from said grandparents to find a several carrier bags and a large crate of wrapped presents. She has just spent the morning putting them under her tree, while her brother plays on the computer next to me on his favourite Underground Ernie game [this did prompt a couple of minutes back a five minute whinge from daughter, as she wanted her brother to help her with a three hundred piece jigsaw - I seem to spend my mornings being shouted at by children!]. My wife is enjoying the lie in she always promises me at weekends, but that my body and my children conspire never to give me. But that does give me the chance to wrap up her presents with the kids!
So, yes surviving Christmas. Not doing too bad so far, but today is the day that we do the major logistical planning that is Christmas lunch, so anything could happen! Timetables, oven temperatures, preparation tables, you name it, there's a list and set of instructions that will be pinned to the kitchen cupboards so that I can get dinner on the table, on schedule, and properly cooked tomorrow. I am king of the Sunday roasts, and can instinctively judge timings and temperatures for everything pretty well, but with Christmas lunch, it is distinctly more timing and temperature critical, and nothing is left to judgment or instinct [or chance]. This is military level planning!
The enjoyable bit of today is taking the kids to the Sunday afternoon crib service and the much later, taking myself to midnight mass. These are the reminders of what all this logistical planning, and running to and fro, shopping, agonizing and general hard work is about. These trappings are part of the social customs that help us stay connected to one another - they go back to pre-Christian Rome and Celtic Britain - lights, feasting, special foods, presents. All mid-winter celebrations to in essence break to gloom of the coldest, dingiest part of the year in the northern hemisphere.
But the other side of coin - the remembrance that the Lord of Creation came into the poverty and muck of a stable birth to a teenage girl, pregnant outside of marriage (and nearly "put aside" by her husband to be in quiet disgrace), in an occupied land where ethnic and religious persecution were the norm, after a journey at the behest of a corrupt leader seeking to boost his tax revenue from already hard pressed peasants. It was into these inauspicious circumstances that Jesus was born - not a romantic nativity scene of Victorian Christmases or modern piety. It was this child who grew up as an artisan in a small village (still in a region that is the scene of ethnic and religious tensions to this day), then in adulthood spent three years preaching and teaching around the remote, largely ignored region of Galilee before finally being arrested by the religious authorities for threatening their status and power. He was eventually put to death by the secular, occupying forces of the Roman empire. Oddly enough, it is the instrument of torture and execution on which he died, a symbol of Rome's brutal control of it's subject peoples, which has become a globally recognised symbol of the Christian faith, and not any of the symbols related to Christmas (stars, mangers, etc, etc.).
Not much of a foundation for a faith you might think- Richard Dawkins and others would tell us so, but the idea that God got involved in all this rubbish we have to live with, from work and taxes to political oppression and persecution lifts our everyday muck and poverty and hardship to the level of something sacred- because He went through it with us. Even something as mundane as pregnancy, childbirth and childhood are lifted to being something holy. It also reminds us that injustice and suffering are something that matter to God, and not issues to be swept under the carpet.
That is something worth celebrating. That and what Jesus' death actually means - Christmas only becomes complete at Easter.
Joyeux Noel touts les Mondes