I didn't go to Meeting for Worship this weekend due to a cold or flu bug which is laying me low. I think the sense of closeness to one another that occurs at a Quaker meeting, which I personally experience much more than sat in the pews of a traditional church, also brings to mind just how infectious one can be!
Instead I stayed at home helped my wife re-put up the tree, inbetween periods of laying on the sofa feeling sorry for myself. Our tree is an artificial one, not one of the reported six million real ones cut down for the event. However, I'm not sure the plastic variety has a smaller carbon footprint so won't get self-righteous about this.
This year our tree has a small nativity set within it as a discreet reminder for us to try remain in-tune with what the season is really about for us as Christians - although having said that, the links with other religious festivals at this time of year are also worth considering (see here and here).
As part of this attempt at a 'more meaningful Christmas' we took time this weekend at the shops to put together a donation for a local food bank. The reason I mention this is not to boast about our apparent good nature but to encourage others to do the same - we too had to be reminded, and without being prompted would have probably taken it for granted the number of neighbours who will go hungry this winter. Today the Guardian reported on Glasgow's poorer citizens and the approach to Christmas, and whilst this former powerhouse of the British Empire has struggled particularly in the new economic era, breadline living is evident across the UK.
Me and my wife have also adopted a (seemingly) Scandinavian tradition of giving one another a small gift each Advent Sunday rather than going for one big lavish splurge on Christmas Day. In doing so we are attempting to mark and enjoy the whole season rather than getting as caught up in a frenetic build-up to the 25th. The patiently waiting on and appreciation of smaller gifts, I think, also reflects a pattern we can adopt throughout the year and so again, the period acts as a time of re-dedication to a a way of living - a way of discipleship - ahead of the new calendar year. This seems to have roots in the earlier traditions of Advent, as discussed in a recent blog for HeraldNet.
Next week at the Quakers there is a card giving event after the Meeting for Worship - each member brings one card and places it on the central table, and then takes another away (hopefully not accidentally taking away the same one!). It is a small way of engaging in sharing goodwill without being overly wasteful. The card I will be sharing reads on the front:
As the wise men were led
by the star above -
May we always be led
by the light of His love.
If Christmas is to mean anything more than a Pagan-rooted feasting period during the darkest, hungriest part of the European calendar, it's about taking time to re-focus on the Inner Light, and to proactively practise acting out of love - ready for the year ahead.