20 December 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

One of the most universal experiences of the modern Christmas is the homecoming.
At some stage over the next few days, media crews will be dispatched to airports to capture the warm embrace of reunited families as loved ones disembark from often arduous journeys to spend the holiday season close to the hearth of home.
Even if we don’t directly participate in this particular ritual, most of us will engage in our own form of homecoming when the working routine comes to an end and we retreat for a time out of the pressured mainstream of our lives and pause for celebration, rest or reflection in our own private space or that we share with family and friends.
This year above all, it is difficult not to liken the journey into the Christmas sanctuary to that made by a storm-battered ship struggling to make the safety of a sheltered harbour.
The recent Budget has brought the chill bite of austerity into the lives of people who might hitherto have considered themselves recession-proof, as well as deepening the privation of many in society already struggling to keep their heads above the water.
And bad news is everywhere – newspapers and television screens teem with images of tragedy and cruelty that seem to mock the season’s association with peace and good will to all men.
This is by no means a modern phenomenon. In a poem from the nineteenth century, Christmas Bells, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow imagines the cannons of the American Civil War then raging drowning out “from each black accursed mouth” the seasonal chimes, only for the church bells to ring out more strongly and resonantly with the message: “God Is not dead, nor doth He sleep;/The Wrong shall fall,/The Right prevail,/With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
Even in dark times, there are elements to the Christmas season that reinforce a faith in human decency and endurance.
It can be difficult to locate such meanings in the blizzard of messages advocating a materialistic path to happiness that bombard us at this time of year, but there is a restorative sense of perspective to be gained from the spiritual dimension of the season that, though often occluded, manages to shine through with a star-like light of guidance.
In this context we commend all our readers, not merely those of Christian persuasion, to the Joint Christmas Message of the Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland Bishops of Clogher which we published in last week’s edition.
In it the Bishops take full account of the circumstances many Irish people find themselves in this Christmas, but frame the experience within an interpretation of the Nativity story that reinforces the inviolable grace of human dignity and the relationship between man and the divine which, though often belittled in the modern worldview, remains a redeeming source of refreshment for the instinct towards good in all of us.
There are always opportunities to give expression to the better part of our nature at Christmas time that offer rich personal reward as well as delivering benefit to others.
Many organisations work ceaselessly at this time of year while others rest in order to improve the lot of the disadvantaged and less fortunate in our midst – a small contribution to their efforts from our pockets, or better still a helping hand, are manifestations of the seasonal spirit that are always gratefully appreciated.
Elderly people and those living alone in our communities deserve special consideration over the coming weeks, and the gift of our time and attention to ensure their material needs are met and the shadow of isolation or insecurity is kept from their doors.
Each of us as we go about our travels this Christmas are faced with an onerous civic responsibility to assist and co-operate with the road safety campaign annually put into operation by the Gardai.
In launching the campaign, Garda Inspector Pat McMorrow defined its motivation and spirit as follows: “This is not about catching people, it’s about protecting each and every person who uses the roads.”
The tragic consequences of reckless behaviour on our roads is constantly emphasised, yet circumstances at this time of year often conspire to tempt even the most responsible driver or pedestrian into lapses from correct practice.
We have given the Garda campaign prominence on page one of this week’s edition in the hope that the cautionary advice it contains will assist in preventing such lapses from occurring and help ensure that this is a Christmas on Co Monaghan roads free from tragedy – but only a thoughtful and concerted commitment from the public to support the Gardai in their objectives will guarantee this outcome.
We should all ensure that this commitment is forthcoming.
Many say that Christmas has lost its meaning, and in many of its modern manifestations it is hard to find much of substance, any testament to the higher appetites or inclinations of the human condition.
Yet the meaning is there if we seek it out – Longfellow heard it above the roar of war, and a modern inheritor of the American poetic tradition, Timothy Steele, in the beautiful ‘Towards the Winter Solstice’, captured the festival’s enduring spirit in a modern Los Angeles where “…UPS vans now like magi make/The present-laden rounds, while fallen leaves/Are gaily resurrected in their wake.”
Even in times when events and attitudes seem inimical to the spirit of Christmas, Steele saw that: “We all enjoy its colorful displays/And keep some festival that mitigates/The dwindling warmth and compass of the days.”
Perhaps Christmas endures because of the endurance of human optimism, the innate need we all have to celebrate and reflect, and believe that there is some redemptive light beyond the dark of winter.
All of us at The Northern Standard wish our readership a warm and happy homecoming this Christmas and the realisation of all their hopes and dreams for the New Year ahead.

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