A FRIEND of long-standing with whom we used to spend at least part of Christmas when we each had young children writes to say she feels a lack of the festive spirit this yearHow cheering: I’ve felt it for years but had to suppress my near-Scrooge like curmudgeonliness at this time of year because I felt so out of step with the rest of the world.

All those presents, endless Christmas cards to people you never see from one year end to the next – and the round robins with news of everybody else’s soaring success and exotic holidays with which ‘Moved house. Had a lovely week in the Lakes’ could hardly compare.

But this year, oddly, it’s been different. Suddenly and unbidden the festive spirit has returned. I’ve boiled it down to three reasons.

First: I have stopped, yes really stopped, feeling guilty about excessive spending, over-indulgence and general festive enjoyment since managing to convince myself that the religious aspect is just part of the season. I see it now as a celebration to lighten the dark days of winter so don’t feel over-exercised about its being a secular event, more than a religious one.

Second: Askrigg looks fantastic. It’s like living in a postcard. – we went to the Christmas tree festival supper in church last night: 29 trees decorated by people in the village (we did one with a war/conflict theme based on my favourite carol, so rarely sung these days, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear: “Oh hush the noise ye men of strife and hear the angels sing”) and a lovely supper cooked by one or two of the more capable ladies (not me, needless to say). Also, they’ve introduced Advent windows to the village this year. So every day a new decoration appears to lift our spirits and gladden our hearts. On top of all that, huge snow falls (our first since we came here, really) have given a magical feel to the place.

Third: and the most difficult to explain. A dear friend of Sally’s, a beautiful, loving mother of three, and her husband, have been told their two year old daughter is dangerously, perhaps fatally, ill. She has to undergo chemo two days after Christmas, presumably so they can ‘enjoy’ a relatively normal Christmas before the treatment starts.  So many people have been thinking of her and praying for her and her family, even though not all will be convinced, logically, that it will do any good. They have asked for everyone’s prayers and every day I do say a prayer and light a Christmas candle for her in the window. In some strange way this little child, who I haven’t even met, has been with me no matter what I’ve been doing: making mince pies, decorating the house, doing the church tree, lighting candles. I can’t even say that her plight has ‘put things in perspective,’ or ‘made me realise how lucky I really am’: I still get cross over silly things, and feel sorry for myself when the mince pies aren’t as good as they should be, or Ian does something mildly irritating. But it has made me think that if the life of one tiny person can matter so much and touch so many, then there surely has to be something more to the world than what we see on the surface.

Ian asked this morning what was the point of praying for someone in these circumstances. What good could I possibly imagine it would do? Why would God, if there was one, respond to prayer to make one person better, or ease one family’s pain? I haven’t the faintest idea is the answer. I only know that I am moved to do it anyway and that in the face of unbearable pain it was the one thing the family could ask of everyone they knew. I doubt if anyone, believer or otherwise, has failed to respond to that request.


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