Christmas spirits

22 December 2010 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Never in recent memory has there been a Christmas for our readership when the bonhomie and good cheer associated with the season has seemed so difficult to conjure up.

The impact on each and every one of us of the nation’s dire economic straits has been overlaid with a further layer of tribulation in recent weeks by the cruelties of the climate, adding to our inconvenience, worries and difficulties and, for our trading and commercial community, threatening to blight what many will have been depending upon for a remunerative fillip to brighten a meagre year.

There is so much about the current Christmas season that is Dickensian, bringing both the characters and context of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol vividly to mind. There will be a good many people who will, because of reduced circumstances, find themselves in a comparable situation to that of Bob Cratchit and his family, struggling to eke out a tolerable Christmas on little means and less prospects. And others of us, made cynical by the recent failures of the political system or fed up with the predatory commercialism of the season, will find ourselves secretly sympathetic to the diagnosis of Ebenezer Scrooge that the whole thing amounts to only ‘A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!’

Everyone knows old Scrooge – or thinks they do. Many versions of the Dickens story will flit across our television screens in the next week, but the tale’s absorption into the popular culture of the season has extracted much of the complexity from the original narrative, and obscured some of the essence of the deep faith in the indomitable decency of humanity that Dickens loved to celebrate. Anyone who can get their hands on a copy of the text and has the time to read it meditatively over the season will find a profound and powerful message with particular application to the difficult period we are personally and collectively going through.

Scrooge is one of the great tragic figures in the Dickens canon, his King Lear perhaps. A once good and decent man made sour and ascetic by the cruel abrasions of life, he is an uncomfortable mirror into which to gaze in these times. Life’s harshness in the modern era can make misers of us all in different ways, causing us to turn inward and away from family and friends, to put our faith in the material and eschew human contact and friendship because of the remembered pain of past hurt or loss. Scrooge’s counting house has been supplanted by the modern workplace, or the virtual worlds of social networking and other on-line or computer-generated diversions, or whatever else causes us to be self-absorbed and abstracted and niggardly with the currency of our kindness, but the purgatory for the soul that we inhabit can be just the same.

If Dickens doesn’t make it onto your reading list this Christmas, a salutary epistle for the season is contained in the joint Christmas message of the Catholic and Church of Ireland Bishops of Clogher which appears in the current edition of this newspaper. Bishops Jackson and MacDaid readily acknowledge the disparity between the idealised Christmas forced upon us by the wiles of marketing, and the difficult reality which economic circumstances create for many at this time of the year. There is a potentially redemptive wisdom in their encouragement of us to ground ourselves in the essential spiritual message of the season as embodied in the Christian tradition. The image of the Christ child in his manger is a powerful antidote to the wave of excess and empty glamour that threatens to engulf the true meaning of the celebration.

We would exhort our readers also to devote careful attention to the message being imparted by Garda Inspector Pat McMorrow elsewhere in our pages as he initiates the annual road safety campaign which his force implement at this time of year. The Inspector’s appeal for public co-operation and assistance towards the objective which the Gardai annually try to accomplish – which is no less than the preservation of life on our roads – is so self-evidently worthy of endorsement by the public at large that, ideally, it should hardly merit making. Yet the need for vigilance on our roads is an unceasing one, and is of even more exigency in the current adverse driving conditions when even a slight digression from good motoring practice or a tiny lapse in one’s resolve never to drink and drive could visit devastating consequences upon ourselves or innocent others.

The Gardai will be among many people working over the holiday season in the interests of the community at large and in their efforts to keep our roads safe they deserve the encouragement and assistance of every right-minded citizen.

The great value of the season we are entering into, whatever one’s spiritual or practical disposition towards it, is often the opportunity it offers to divest ourselves of the everyday and indulge in some easeful reflection. At a time when many will be restricted in what they can gift or give in a material sense, it is worth pondering upon the opportunities available to us to indulge in a little higher generosity.

There are many altruistic organisations at work at the present time in all our local communities, keeping an eye on the elderly or the infirm, or ensuring in an undemonstrative manner that poverty and privation is kept from the doors of those with limited means. These groups are readily known to us all, and they are never blessed with an overabundance of assistance in carrying out the practicalities of their labours. A helping hand will never be refused, and the rewards can be rich indeed.

It was the Spirits of Christmas that brought Scrooge his redemption, salving and salvaging his battered old soul. It is our hope for our readership that something of the true spirit of Christmas will permeate their own lives over the course of time until the next edition of our newspaper, enabling them to experience all the true joys of the season and enter into the New Year to come with hope and confidence.

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