Without wanting to sound like The Grinch...
...and admitting that it might be my age, it seems to me that Christmas comes earlier every year. This year it felt that as soon as Guy Fawkes Night had passed the shops were gearing up for Christmas and festive songs were playing on the radio. Here at Warwick, Dr Chapman and I held firm and refused to allow decorations to go up until after the start of advent.
Nonetheless, despite our best efforts we enjoyed our Christmas lunch earlier this week on Wednesday, 7 December, a week before the end of term and 17 days ahead of Christmas day! Every year Christmas seems to become increasingly commercial and sadly for many people it is a time of pressure and stress. People post their ‘highlights’ on social media, pictures of their idyllic celebrations, annual accomplishments and happy families, and in the face of people’s apparently perfect lives and overt jolliness we worry that our own festivities and achievements don’t compare. While Santa’s gifts are a major part of what makes the festive season so magical, the focus on wanting and receiving contributes to an unhealthy belief that possessions are the only thing that can make you happy and can lead us to make negative comparisons between our own lives and the lives of those who have more.
I love the Oxfam book shop on Regent Street in Leamington Spa, I find it hard to walk past without going inside for a browse, which inevitably leads to me making a purchase. On a recent visit I stumbled across a copy of the Oxford Book of Christmas Stories and thinking it would be nice to read some of them to my children I bought it. It contains a short story by Hugh Oliver called The Christmas Gift. It asks us to abandon materialism and focus on the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas is a time for generosity and The Christmas Gift begins with an act of generosity when an expectant father, John invites a stranger into his home on a cold and snowy Christmas Eve in circumstances where he could easily be forgiven for being less charitable. Presents are a huge part of what makes Christmas special, but the Cambridge Dictionary defines generosity as ‘a willingness to give help or support, especially more than usual or expected.’ So perhaps this year as well as giving gifts we could all commit to giving our time either to help and support someone in need, like a group of our prefects who are volunteering at The Mayor’s Christmas Lunch, or simply by spending time with your family doing something they enjoy. Christmas is a magical time of year, and The Christmas Gift finishes with a miracle, when the stranger saves John’s child, reminding us of the greatest miracle of all, life, and the amazing fact of our existence, encouraging us to celebrate that miracle by being kind, loving and generous. This festive season, rather than focusing on what others have and we don’t, choose instead to make time for gratitude and take a moment to reflect on what you are grateful for: be it family, health or friends. Because, as John realises when he looks at his table ‘spread with all the good things for Christmas and there was no joy in him anymore,’ that is what really matters.
The message of The Christmas Gift is particularly pertinent this year following the sad news earlier this week of the passing of Mrs Angela Appleyard. For 21 years Angela was an inspirational teacher and highly respected colleague. Many senior school students will have fond memories of their time in her class as Junior School pupils, and our thoughts this Christmas are with her two daughters and wider family at this difficult time.