Dear God, Please help me to keep it together this Christmas. For it is a testing time as well as a joyful one.
Help me to make sense of this season, in which the wonderful story of the birth of your Son jostles with all sorts of ghastliness. Give me the calm fortitude to bear the advertising, the tinsel, the pressure to be a perfect family, meaning a self-satisfied bourgeois bunch, worshipping at the shrine of their miserable materialism.
Help me not to be too much of a fool at Christmas parties. They are smaller and fewer this year but there are still opportunities to put my foot in it with an inappropriate joke or a stray comment that shows someone what I think of them. Help me not to flirt too much with that foxy young mum down the road. Let me smile nicely at Tim and Ruby, who only want to talk about house prices and schools, and Richard, who is a show-off, and Martin, who knows a very great deal about electric cars.
Thank you for the gift of family. Let my daughter’s festive excitement not get on my nerves, even when she plays loud Christmas pop songs as soon as she wakes. All is forgiven when she plays ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ on the piano. Let me calmly soak up any tension in the house, however irrationally certain members of the family seem to behave.
Help me to choose a few gifts that are not too rubbish, and help me to be grateful for the disappointing gifts that I will receive. There is no reason this little ritual should stress me out. Let me not spoil it with a rant against the materialism of our culture. It is no sign of integrity to cause a family row on Christmas morning.
When we visit Guy and Emma help me to not to betray any negative feelings whatsoever about the behaviour of their children, which is absolutely none of my business. My role is to be grateful for their generosity and to seem politely interested in the various holidays that they are planning. Let us all stick to jolly chat and party games and avoid debates about the culture wars, which can soon turn nasty and personal, as we discovered last time. Thank you that we have all moved on from that episode.
I struggle to know what to make of a season that blends heavenly purity and ugly consumerist excess so seamlessly. Some years it really does fill me with deep bleakness, as if it exposes the essential hollowness of our entire culture. Let me banish such thoughts and remember that I am one of the lucky ones with a bustling family.
So let me be less self-pitying and wonder how I can think of others more. Let me fret less and maybe even spread a bit of joy. Let me look beyond the frazzled nerves and torn wrapping paper, and when things get hairy let me focus on the knitted nativity scene we display every year, so basic and ordinary but so weirdly eloquent of unworldly gentleness, perfect peace.
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