So, the long Advent wait is over and the first Mass of Christmas (for many of us) has happened and now we are back with our family. For many, Christmas itself is almost over, although for Christians of a certain frame of mind, we know it has only just begun and will go on until at least the Feast of the Epiphany, and, at least on one old English custom, to Candlemas on 2 February, which is the fortieth day of the Christmas period. Our ancestors were less niggardly with celebrations than we are, and the plethora of Saints days gave their name to the word we use now to describe periods of rest from work – ‘holidays’ – which, of course, derives from ‘holy days’ – which at least makes for a smile when used by secularists as a substitute for Christmas, as in ‘happy holidays’.
Of all the poems which celebrate Christmas, it is Betjeman’s which speaks most to this contrast between the every-day and the Divine. It starts with conventional images of a cosy Christmas before coming down to the lives of most of us:
And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.
He then turns the poem on a single question – ‘And is it true/ this most tremendous tale of all?’ That is, indeed, the question, and it is the one to which the Christian answers “yes”. What follows from this answer gives the poem its power:
And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,
No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
That is just it. Nothing can compare to this ‘single Truth’. God loves us so much that His Son paid the price of our redemption. What news could compare with that? That is why we have this celebration. So, from all here to all of you, a happy and a holy Christmas.