My family have never celebrated Christmas as a religious event. My parents moved to England a few years before i was born, one a Hindu and the other not religious. But we all enjoy the ritualised traditions of a British Christmas, quickly picked up and participated in. Most of the aspects we like the best are not related to Christianity but were simply absorbed from existing and much older winter festivities.
We’ve always had a fairly traditional Christmas dinner (though we never developed a love of turkey and I maintain that my mum’s tandoori roast leg of lamb makes a far better centre piece to the Christmas table, served with stuffing and sprouts and all the rest). We decorated a tree at home (and stored wrapped presents at its foot), took part in school nativity plays, exchanged Christmas cards, sang Christmas carols, and swapped presents with our friends. If it snowed, we built snowmen and went sledging!
My mum still hangs a couple of ugly-precious tree ornaments that my sister and I made over three decades ago, though we’ve gently persuaded her to retire the most delapidated ones. Fortunately, she now has two small and eager grandchildren to make new ugly-precious decorations in their place!
We often joined with our closest family friends for a glorious gathering of our Jewish-Hindu-Atheist beliefs and backgrounds. Christmas for us has always been about family and friendship. We gave them Hanukkah presents, they gave us Christmas presents, and we all loved the candles, fireworks and Anglo-Indian feasts.
In the depths of winter—the darkest time of year—it’s a good point at which to take a pause and celebrate the people we love. I appreciate the opportunity to take stock of the year that’s passed, and to express gratitude (or relief) for another year lived (or survived).
This year has been a strange one, like none that I remember in my lifetime… and that is continuing through the Christmas season. Many are foregoing their usual big family gatherings in order to protect the eldery and most vulnerable from the threat of Covid-19. Some will gather in smaller bubbles. Pete and I are staying at home in Wales, just the two of us.
It’s not just the big day that’s severely muted, but all the pre-Christmas gatherings and celebrations—the work-do boozy lunches and secret santas, the “he’s behind you, oh no he isn’t” pantos and loud and lusty carol concerts, the Christmas jumpers and reindeer headbands, the meet-ups with various groups of friends to chatter, swap gifts and generally be merry. There’s much to miss, and it’s ok to feel sad about it.
Giving gifts is something I have always loved; I feel such enormous pleasure in finding something I hope will bring real joy to the recipient. This year I am donating money I would have spent on going out, and on buying gifts for a wider group of friends and family, to The Trussell Trust, a charity that runs food banks across the UK, supporting and helping those in need. Food banks in the UK have seen unprecedented demand on their services this year, and Christmas will be more of the same. As one of those in a fortunate position to still be working full time throughout the pandemic, I’ve been contributing to food banks throughout the year and calling on those who can to join me.
This has been a harder year than ever for so many, with many job losses driven by the pandemic. More people than ever before are facing a bleak and difficult holiday season. There’s also a wider story of increasing inequality, increasing poverty and an increasingly callous society (in parts). Seeing the way that some people think and talk about those in need (as we observed in mainstream and social media coverage about Free School Meals not very long ago) is horrifying, and soul-crushing. I can’t imagine how much more painful it must be to see and hear the nastiness and scorn for those experiencing poverty themselves right now.
So I ask my friends and readers if you might like to donate as well, though I know some of you have already responded to my previous calls for help this year. The Facebook Fundraiser function is one of the easiest way I know of to set up fundraiser pages where people can quickly and easily give funds to charities. There are no payment processing fees when donating on Facebook. Of course, you can also donate directly at the charity’s website, which I’ve also been doing this year.
Here’s my current Trussell Trust fundraiser, on Facebook.