I am thinking that preparing for Christmas is a bit like getting oysters fresh from the tide-line. To get such oysters you must put time aside, get up and out and doing, probably travel around a few places before you find what you’re looking for, endure the difficulties not of crowded stores but of sharp shells and wet feet on slippery rock, prise off the oysters and make your way home again. And back at home you will have to shuck the oysters, which looks easy when someone else does it, until finally you can have your feed. And then you have to clean up afterwards. It’s an awful lot of effort, but it is undertaken for one of life’s very considerable pleasures. That, I think, is where it is like what we put ourselves through to celebrate Christmas. If the special feeling of Christmas was not quite so great, we surely wouldn’t bother.
But what is the ‘oyster’ in our Christmas time that is worth all that effort? Why do we shop and wrap, write and post, decorate and cook, travel and ring, meet and talk, catch up and visit? What are the moments we are looking for, the oyster-swallowing moments that make it worthwhile?
For some people, it’s all about the children. They’ll do the lot mainly for the pleasure of seeing the little kids so excited about Santa, wide-eyed in front of the tree and the presents, running back and forth showing things to dimly-remembered relatives. To see children transported to such special, special moments: for some that is the joy of Christmas.
For others, it is about family. That everyone gets together and shares the peculiar Christmas rhythm of having special rituals to perform, but also time to sit and be idle, to relax and to get all the news. It is building again, and celebrating, our connections with one another. Even the inevitable difficult moments and revivals of old arguments serve to remind us that we are family: we have bonds that go beyond agreeing or even liking each other. We belong in this mob, for better or for worse perhaps, but we do belong.
Then there are the blessed folk who really do love giving. Whether it is the presents in the family or the time serving at the charity Christmas lunch, or the opportunity to be heartily nice to strangers without scaring the pants off them, some people just love the chance to be at their best, without the normal constraints. Christmas gives us an excuse to do good without embarrassment. In the present age, that pleasure is a rare enough.
All these things are good. For me, though, the moment I get to consume my Christmas ‘oyster’, to savour the highlight of the whole exercise, comes somewhere in the quiet of the Midnight Mass. Now, I’m not getting pious here, or making it up. This is just what I feel, year after year. At some point in Midnight Mass, it strikes me that God came among us, not in power and majesty, but as a small child, as a member of a little family, as a man of normal human thoughts and feelings. In the quiet of Christmas Eve, I touch into that sense of God-with-us: ‘Tonight a child is born for us, a son is given to us. He is Christ the Lord.’
What is your Christmas ‘oyster’ moment? What keeps bringing you back to Christmas? And how can you share that specialness with your family or with others generally?
Whatever your Christmas ‘oyster’ is, may God bless you and yours with it abundantly this year. Happy Christmas!