I have always been a Christmassy person. One of my friends calls me her Christmas friend for my propensity to tie bows and ribbons on everything all year long.
I think it’s the twinkle I love: the glisten of decorations and the golden glow of fairy lights. In the depths of darkest winter, the whole of life somehow seems more sparkly.
And I love Christmas foods; mountains of rich, boozy mince pies and heart-warming vats of cinnamon-scented mulled wine. I love the first deep breath of a fragrant Christmas tree, and the sweet tanginess of a freshly peeled tangerine fished from my stocking on Christmas morning.
And I love being with my family. Admittedly it’s not always peaceful or perfect, but there is always a great deal of jolliness.
But mostly I love the feeling of love that seems to infuse every heart in the world.
I am approaching Christmas 2011 with more sadness and a little less joy than usual though. It has been a year of loss for me and for my family; the loss of loved ones.
When I think of the people I have lost – whether through death or by other means – I remember the women who I met in Africa this summer. Most of them had suffered loss too – the loss of their husbands or their children. I spoke to one mother in Mandera county who had walked for 10 days from Somalia to find food and water in neighbouring Kenya. She carried her two year old son on her back for the entire journey. And then he died of malnutrition the day after she reached help.
I think about that woman and I wonder what she is doing now. It’s raining in Mandera at the moment – the longed-for rains, thankfully, have come. Is she still in Kenya? Or has she returned to her village in Somalia? Has she found her husband? Are the rest of her children healthy, or has she lost more? Has she been able to find enough food to sustain her family? I hope with every molecule of my body that she is safe and well, and that her family is thriving.
Christmas inspires both gratitude for what we already have and sparks a certain greater openness to generosity, kindness and compassion. Charles Dickens wrote in the most festive of novels, ‘A Christmas Carol’, that Christmas is “a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable pleasant time: the only time…in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.’
As I prepare to leave my desk for two whole weeks of festive celebration, my heart is with all the people I met when I was in Africa, and for every vulnerable, forgotten, underprivileged woman, man and child around the world. As the embers of 2011 settle and the bright lights of 2012 beckon, I am sending them all of my love and good wishes.
Next year I hope we can all do more to help build a fairer world, one which is free from poverty and injustice. Two billion people live in abject poverty, with less than 80 pence a day. That’s two billion too many. People, please help the people.
Thank you – and happy Christmas.