Posted tagged ‘Christmas’

Understanding student loneliness

December 4, 2018

Some years ago, when I was President of Dublin City University, I decided to take a little time on Christmas Day to offer coffee and light Christmas snacks to students staying in the university halls of residence over the holiday period. A good number turned up. Some of them were there because they came from national or cultural backgrounds where Christmas was not a holiday, and a few were there because, frankly, they had nowhere else to go. It was a pleasant get-together overall, but what stayed in my mind most was a conversation with a young woman who told me that, for many students (and not just those still in residence), this was a particularly lonely time of year. She said that for anyone feeling a sense of challenge or stress, or any kind of lack of self-respect, the end of the year was the very worst time.

Just this past week, Oxford University Students Union referred to a report by the Office of National Statistics that revealed that young people make up the loneliest age group in society. The Union draws attention to the need to address this very human problem at this time of year. It is indeed important for universities to show awareness of student loneliness, and to offer support, and sometimes just empathy. It is important to give students an assurance that they do not have to be alone, and that there are people to whom they can talk. It is a good time to communicate such messages to the whole student body.

The resilience of a festival

December 25, 2017

I am currently staying for a week on the south coast of England, visiting relatives. So last night we headed off to Christmas Midnight Mass in Salisbury Cathedral. For readers who do not know it, it is a gem of ecclesiastical architecture, well worth a visit at any time. But what struck me most last night was the crowd of people who had come to the service – we were told there were nearly 2,000 in the congregation, and it was standing room only. And in his sermon, the Dean of the cathedral mused on the eccentricity of people who, in an increasingly secular society, would still turn up in this place at this time – something that was, in a slightly different context, also explored some years ago by Philip Larkin in his wonderful poem Church Going.

Most of my friends are agnostics or atheists, and yet many of them too join carol services and similar ceremonies in December. Christmas in particular, it has to be said, is a most resilient festival.

Of course we all know that Christmas falls on December 25th, but then again, the event it commemorates – the birth of Jesus Christ – may have taken place on any day of the year, as there is no reliable record of the date. It was not a festival kept in early Christian times. The key elements of today’s Christmas festivities, such as the socialising and exchange of gifts, did not emerge until much later.

By the time of the Reformation some of the reformers had become hostile to Christmas in part because they regarded it as an un-biblical festival, in part because they disliked the catholic resonance of the ‘Christ-Mass’ concept, but largely because of what they regarded as the excesses ‘giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights’. This led to Christmas being banned in England under Oliver Cromwell – alongside all other religious feasts apart from the normal Sunday religious observances. Christmas was also banned under the influence of the Puritans in some parts of the American colonies around the same time.

So maybe Christmas has an unreliable pedigree, and there is still no shortage of people today who will argue that we have got the spirit of Christmas all wrong and that it is nothing more than an orgy of wasteful excess. But as for me, I don’t particularly care whether people celebrate the Christian festival (as I do), or pursue a secular escape from (what at any rate in Europe is) the winter, or try to have a family get-together during a holiday season. I believe that communities need holidays, and should be able to enjoy them.

Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas!

December 24, 2013

May I wish all readers of this blog a happy, relaxed and satisfying Christmas. As I write this, storms are battering where I am staying for Christmas, in the Irish Midlands. I hope that this will pass (here and elsewhere) without causing excessive damage or distress. So may this holiday season be everything you wanted it to be. And many thanks for stopping by here, today and on other days.

Maybe it may also be of interest that, if you are celebrating Christmas, you are doing something that was illegal for a number of years in some countries. Christmas was banned by Cromwell’s government in 1647, and observing it (even privately) was prohibited until 1650. The American Puritans took a dim view of it also. As a holiday it only became popular after Prince Albert (after whom the building where I worked for some years in DCU was named) introduced his inherited German customs to England in the mid-19th century, and when US popular culture (from Coca Cola to Disney) introduced the ‘modern’ Santa Claus to the world (‘Santa’ being of course a re-branded Saint Nicholas of Myra).

A very happy Christmas to you all!

The Christmas story

December 25, 2012

Christmas has been an extraordinarily resilient festival, surviving theological and political turmoil over the ages. Of course we all know that Christmas Day falls on December 25th, but then again, the event it commemorates – the birth of Jesus Christ – may have taken place on any day of the year, as there is no reliable record of the date. It was not a festival kept in early Christian times. The key elements of today’s Christmas festivities, such as the socialising and exchange of gifts, did not emerge until much later – some of them not until the 19th century.

By the time of the Reformation some of the reformers had become hostile to Christmas in part because they regarded it as an un-biblical festival, in part because they disliked the catholic resonance of the ‘Christ-Mass’ concept, but largely because of what they regarded as the excesses ‘giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights’. This led to Christmas being banned in England under Oliver Cromwell – alongside all other religious feasts apart from the normal Sunday religious observances. Christmas was also banned under the influence of the Puritans in some parts of the American colonies around the same time.

So maybe Christmas has an unreliable pedigree, and there is still no shortage of people today who will argue that we have got the spirit of Christmas all wrong and that it is nothing more than an orgy of wasteful excess. But as for me, I don’t particularly care whether people celebrate the Christian festival (as I do), or pursue a secular escape from (what at any rate in Europe is) the winter, or try to have a family get-together during a holiday season. I believe that communities need holidays, and should be able to enjoy them.

I wish all readers of this blog a happy, peaceful and refreshing Christmas!

 

Christmas is coming, not (yet)!

October 31, 2012

One of the hazards of being in public buildings with PA systems in late October or thereabouts is that you are transported into a weird world where Rudolph is pushing his red nose through a winter wonderland in which Slade wishes everyone a ‘merry Christmas’. Roy Wood’s dream has nearly come true, and it more or less is ‘Christmas every day’.

Right now I am waiting for a rather delayed plane in Edinburgh airport. And my mood is not helped by the Christmas music. Paul McCartney may be ‘simply having a wonderful Christmas time’, but I’m not, nor am I intending to for nearly two months. I hope I can find a corner in which the music cannot be heard. Now.

I’m dreaming of a commercial Christmas

December 26, 2011

Everyone is at it, so I suppose it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see the Pope on the bandwagon. According to news reports, Benedict hit out at the commercialization of Christmas and asked worshippers to ‘see through the superficial glitter’. Alrighty, I guess. A bit of a cliché, but then again, don’t we all want a Christmas when happy families come together and, after church and Christmas dinner, play games and talk?

Well, yes. Sort of. But the reality is that if we all did this, and stopped buying presents, having dinners and indulging in treats at this time of year the economic consequences would be serious. Of course we should try to see festivals such as this as community building opportunities, but I am inclined to think that quite a lot of what goes on around Christmas does just that: presents are an opportunity for us to try to understand and then give pleasure to people close to us, and parties bring us together. Christmas also often brings out the best in people, as support for charities and for good causes increases.

So, I think the Pope would do more good by reminding us of the ways in which we can all help to sustain each other. And as it happens, a bit of commercialization is one of them. Not least because it secures employment.

Happy Christmas

December 25, 2011

I would like to wish all readers of this blog a happy, peaceful and refreshing Christmas holiday. For those of you wanting some relief from Christmas gatherings and meals, there will be more posts here today and tomorrow.

In the meantime, I wish you all every happiness and fulfilment.