Christmas, we all know (despite the common belief of non-Christians), is not the most important feast of the Christian year. We know that that is Easter, and that it is only in the Resurrection of Christ that the story of our salvation comes to its climax and its fulfilment.
But Christmas does have about it a special magic, detectable by non-believers, which is somehow just there. It is the story of a beginning, a story of hope: and many a new convert, living through their first Christmas as a believer, has realised with a shock of recognition that it is there that it all began for them. Even among the possibly larger number of unbelievers who don’t make the transition into faith, there are many who have seen something.
I have just been reading, in a Sunday Times Christmas food supplement, accounts of Christmas cooking from England, France and Italy. Raymond Blanc contributed the section on Christmas in France (ribs of beef not turkey, lucky them); and after explaining how in the classic pudding the galette des rois, baked for the Epiphany, are hidden two porcelain figures and whoever finds them becomes King and Queen for the day.
“As children,” he goes on, “we loved it, and it’s wonderful to watch new additions to the family enjoy it just as much.” Then, he continues, without any change of gear, almost shockingly, with this: “I still find Christmas the most holy and divine time, whatever country I’m in. There’s something very different about it – a warm fuzziness in the air. Everyone shows a little more kindness, less impatience.”
This reminded me immediately of that famous passage from Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, in which, to Scrooge’s “bah, humbug” outburst, his nephew replies:
“I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round … as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
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