Slow down and enjoy this Christmastime

Christmas is a stressful time for most of us; we’re too busy with office Christmas parties, shopping for the perfect gift, getting the kids dressed like angels and elves, and feeling guilty about walking past the food bank donation bin to feel the reason for the season.

It’s the same in the newspaper business — except I don’t have to worry anymore about dressing up my son for a school Christmas concert. Last week I attended a few Christmas carol concerts to help lift my spirits and this week I’ll be attending several school concerts as a photographer. In almost 30 years in this business I’ve been to more than 100 concerts, some more memorable than others. One of my favourites was a Christian school production of A Charlie Brown Christmas — complete with a child dressed as Snoopy and another wearing Charlie Brown’s zigzag sweater.

I’ve also developed film (remember film) to discover I have an indelible image of some cute elf in the front row digging for booger nuggets or playing pocket pool. At this time of year you take the laughs where they present themselves.

For most of us, Christmas is a break from work; for family and friends it is a time to share presents, turkey and a wassail or two.

As our Santa’s Anonymous campaigns have reminded us, let us remember the needy, the cold, the hungry, and the oppressed; the sick and those who mourn, the lonely and the unloved at this special time of year.

At Christmastime, everyone is our neighbour, no matter their race, creed or colour. The need to look after our neighbours is far more important than cultural or religious differences. Dec. 25 marks the birth of Jesus Christ. Among other things, it is a reminder that at its core, Christmas is a story about a family — a family in dire straits.

Most of us have the financial resources to go Christmas shopping, to splurge one last time. But there are some of our neighbours who are beginning to feel the pressure of a tightening economic noose. The spirit of Christmas begins with your acts of charity. Christmas will help you to restore faith in the goodness of mankind.

My first Christmas as a newlywed was a tragic one and I came to realize that the caring and generosity of a small community will help you to deal with your grief. Communities provide us with a necessary sense of belonging; we share in moments of joy and sadness, we accept differences and reduce prejudices — regardless of our religion.

We learn from one another — Christian or Jew, Muslim or Buddhist, Sikh or Hindu. Religion can be divisive — and Canada is still at war afar this Christmas — but the Bible, Koran and the sacred texts of Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus are sources of divine inspiration and a practical guide to living for billions. Christmas, Ramadan, Hanukkah, Kwanza and the coming new year offer a time to reflect and believe in the possibilities of rebirth and renewal. The birth of Jesus Christ in a simple manger in Bethlehem two millennia ago is still a powerful symbol of hope for a better future.

The measure of Christ’s influence continues to be seen in the selfless works of volunteers in our communities. Christmas is the perfect time to recognize all who have made our communities better and to say a heartfelt thank you to each of them.

At the centre of all our lives this season is the centuries-old message of caring for others, the message at the heart of Christianity and the other religions observing celebrations at this time of year. Simply, we’re celebrating a sense of belonging and pride in our community; a sense of sharing a common heritage enriched by cultural, ethnic and religious diversity.

Our community celebrations, the pageants, the church services, the volunteerism, help to recognize the valuable work undertaken by so many people in service of their communities. As the Christmas story reminds us, we must never forget the plight of the disadvantaged and we must respond to the needs of those who may be in distress. Our work and family responsibilities place such heavy demands on our time and attention that we need to slow down and remember that we have responsibility to each other.

Merry Christmas.

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