I have chosen to live this way. I turned down all the marriage offers and chances to build a family. Writing comes first for me, and it’s a lonely existence. So I am reduced on public holidays to the company of my mother and father (I don’t even have a sibling to share the burden with). One year we grew so sick of the same old routine that we booked Christmas dinner at a local pub. When we arrived we discovered that we were the only ones who had reserved a table. The Stanleys ended up dining by themselves in an empty public house, while the landlord went through the last throes of a messy divorce. Since then, I have forever associated the cutting of the turkey with the cry, “My mother told me this would happen.”
But others do not choose to suffer at Christmas, and I would urge you all to give them your thoughts. It is distressing to know that some people will spend Christmas Eve asleep on the streets, or that others will spend it fearful of where the next penny is coming from. Life in an age of recession is frightening. There are the ill to think of, too. My own father will see out the New Year in a lead lined room being bombarded by radiation (he has been advised that everything he brings into the radiotherapy – even the TV – will be destroyed afterwards. “And what about me?” he asked).
Then there are the people whose patience we take for granted but who are invaluable to us: the nurses minding the casualty wards, the policemen arresting the drunks, the firemen on their annual call to extinguish my mother’s Christmas pudding. Consider the priests above all else. For them this is the busiest, and perhaps most frustrating, time of the year. Their congregations will quadruple on Saturday night, shrink on Sunday, and vanish by Monday. Most people’s Christian fervor struggles to last a long weekend.
For me, this is the moment when I regain it. After a year of skipping church on the most spurious grounds (I’m convinced my local priest is taking bribes from the Baptists to make his services so boring that we all convert), I’m now riding a train to confession and Mass. Must get clean, must get pure. Why? Why, for the baby Jesus, of course.
I’ve long struggled with the image of the Crucifixion. It’s too awful, too immense for simple minds to process. But the Nativity has strikes something deep within me. It’s the joy of birth, but also the fragility of the newborn. It’s the incredible sacrifices made by everyone – by Mary to bear, without question, the Son of God; by God to give His son; by Jesus to be born only to die. And at the center of all man’s hopes is not some magnificent deity of the order of Zeus or Horus. It is a little child; soft, pink, and vulnerable. This is how God came to us, and it is far more awesome than a flaming chariot with orb and scepter.
What will I say in confession? That’s between me and the priest, but I will share one sin with you. Looking back over my Telegraph posts for the last few months I can see that I have often been unkind to the men and women running for the Presidency of the United States. I have made fun of their adulteries, gaffes, unblinking eyes, and crazy-ass views. For that, I sincerely apologize. They are all good people who want to serve their country and I think any one of them would make a fine President. President of what, I won’t say – although someone should tell Rick Perry that Saturday Night Live is always looking for new members.
God bless and Merry Christmas.