Inside Christmas from cheer to fear

Give yourself your willingness to be there for other people at Christmastime in whatever way you can and you would have made Christmas merry for both of you. Make this a Christmas of cheer and not fear.

by Victor Cherubim

( December 24, 2016, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) For centuries the tradition of Catholics, perhaps non-Catholics as well, attending Midnight Mass has been the highpoint of the celebration of Christmas. Mass service at midnight at Christmas dates back to the early Church, when it was believed that Christ Jesus was born at midnight.

At Bethlehem 

Many may not know that Christmas will be celebrated four times this year as in the past, in the City of Bethlehem, as the Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Syrian and Coptic Church all mark it on different dates. The message however is the same: “Peace to men of goodwill,” with Catholic and non Christian devotees flocking to Bethlehem, from around the world on the 25 December 2016.

At Westminster Cathedral, London 

Midnight Mass service attendance at Westminster Cathedral, London is for many a cherished dream. It was and is the highlight of the Advent season in England, with so many from various nationalities from around the world making it a special occasion to crowd the Church two hours in advance for this special vigil.

There is a nostalgic feel with the entrance in procession down the isle of the Church half hour before midnight, of choristers of all ages and sizes, followed by the deacons, priests of the diocese and the Archbishop of Westminster, His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols.

Carols are sung and bells are rung. There are candles aglow at the Altar and the Nativity Crib is adorned with icons of the Infant Babe, the Holy Family, the shepherds, Wise Men, animals and the twinkling of the Star of Bethlehem, in the manger. There is silence, not a pin drop during the homily of the Archbishop. At the end of the one and a half hour service, a warm welcome and Christmas handshake is offered to one and all, by the Archbishop as they leave the Cathedral, an English Christmas tradition.

In Lahore, Pakistan 

On Christmas Eve, Churches are also packed for the midnight vigil service in far away Lahore. Pakistan, contrary to what many think. The choir sing very special hymns. After the Vigil Mass there are fireworks which help to celebrate the start of Bara Din. People dance, exchange presents and enjoy the special night. “On Bara Din, Christians wear their best colourful clothes, stay in the Church courtyard enjoying various foods from the different stalls. In Pakistan it is still the custom for adults to visit their parents at Christmastime. Children know Father Christmas as “Christmas Baba.”

In Lapland, Finland 

Everyone tries to be home for Christmas including fishermen who try to get their fleet of boats into the harbours by December 21, St Thomas Day. Church services are held on Christmas Eve, many attend dressed in national costume, wearing white anoraks. Christmas Eve is very special and the most important day over Christmas.  It is traditional to eat rice porridge and plum fruit juice for breakfast. The fir tree is brought in to be decorated indoors.

Finnish people believe that Santa Claus or Father Christmas lives in the north part of Finland, in the Arctic Circle. Over 600,000 letters are received from children in over 150 countries addressed to Santa Claus known in Finland as “Joulupukki” or Yule Goat. Santa Claus does not have to travel far on Christmas Day to deliver presents by reindeer to children in Finland. Gifts are left under the Christmas tree for those who have not been naughty over the period or a sack of coal for those who are not.

In Sydney, Australia 

I had the pleasure some years ago of spending Christmas Day at Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia. Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere is an altogether different spectacle. Christmas comes in towards the beginning of the summer holiday. As it is so hot in Australia, there are quite often massive bush fires across the country.

Australians hang wreaths on their front doors and go out carol singing on Christmas Eve by candlelight. They decorate their homes and gardens with Christmas trees and Christmas lights. The Vigil Church Service at Churches is broadcast nationwide from Sydney Cathedral, with crowds filling in and bells ringing in Christmas.

Christmas everywhere 

The terrifying choice during Christmastime everywhere is either sleeping on freezing streets or perhaps, risk being abused inside warm flats by addicts and predators. Either way, it is heartbreaking. We also have known of others who will self harm to get a bed in A & E wards during Christmas in UK. Is any excuse accepted to get noticed?

The dividing line between fantasy and reality during Christmas is a wavering and permeable one. The world needs to look out for ways to be of service to others. It does not have to be anything with lofty ideals. It could be as simple as taking some unwanted old clothes to a homeless shelter. Maybe you could spend a few minutes on the phone talking things out with some stressed out person who is known to you. Maybe you could help a little kid cross a crowded street in your town or city. Christmas means giving, not only exchange of presents, but a refinement of friendship.

Give yourself your willingness to be there for other people at Christmastime in whatever way you can and you would have made Christmas merry for both of you. Make this a Christmas of cheer and not fear.

This year Pope Francis asks the people of God “to welcome one another, strive to find new ways to welcome strangers”. He has in mind to reach out to the homeless, the hungry,   the unemployed, the broken hearted. He may or may not mention in this year’s Christmas “Urbi et Orbi” (To the City and the World) message, the fear of the deadly atrocities taking place around Christian and other communities by those who think they have won everything, but have little of worth in the sight of God.


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