Tapping into the magic of Christmas

Although many of us have turned away from conventional religion, doctrine and dogma, we still search for something beyond our increasingly materialist, me-me-me, I want it and I want it NOW consumerist world. Counting myself among the questers, I was interested to read an article entitled Divine Inspiration in the Melbourne Age before Christmas. The article looked at how the decline in the church-going population has gone hand in hand with an increase in the numbers of those seeking a spiritual dimension to their lives.

People find spirituality or a sense of otherness in different ways, whether it’s through meditation, ritual, prayer, solitude, art, poetry, time spent in nature or listening to music. The important thing is to take time out from the everyday, the rushing around, the doing and constant communicating with everything and everybody. Although, of course, you can choose to tune into Twitter for spiritual snippets and words of wisdom if you so choose…

That’s why I love going to church on Christmas Day. For me it’s about reclaiming a sense of ritual and sacredness at Christmas, surely one of the most hijacked religious festivals in the world. It’s about celebrating friends, family and being alive, about giving thanks for all the things we take for granted and about expressing joy through song and music. Whether or not we ‘believe’ in the Christmas story, it is a wonderful metaphor for the magical and mystical.
Even though I get ribbed by my brother and his family for what is often my only appearance of the year at church (I can’t seem to explain to them that it’s not about doing the right thing but about savouring an hour of peace and reflection away from presents, chatter and food) I persist in going on Christmas morning.

And it’s not just my own family that find it surprising that I make my yuletide pilgrimage. Australia is even more secular than my native England and so I am very much in the minority. According to La Trobe-based researcher and writer on religion, Professor Tacey, “We are such radically secular culture, so materialist, that to talk about the transcendent is almost un-Australian.” Perhaps it’s just as well I have dual nationality…


This year, however, I got caught up in the pre-Christmas rush and managed to Google the wrong church in the wrong country. Call it tiredness, scattiness, middle age madness or what you will, but I looked up St Peters Church in Brighton, England rather than St Andrew’s Church in Brighton, Australia. I was a bit surprised by the copy on the website: We are delighted to welcome you to this great adventure, an Anglican church planted from Holy Trinity Brompton in 2009 (HTB being in central London) – and by the fact that there was only one service at 10.30 a.m. when I was sure I had seen something about 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. in my local paper…

OK so I missed some of my favourite carols, but I did arrive in time to hear the choir sing In the Bleak Midwinter. As the sun streamed through the modern stained glass windows and glinted on the red baubles surrounding wreaths of holly, I was geographically many miles away from the ‘frosty wind made moan’ and ‘the snow on snow’ of the Northern Hemisphere, and yet at the same time I was immersed in the story, tradition and rituals I grew up with. I was in time for communion, for O little town of Bethlehem, for a glorious Hosanna anthem by the choir, for Silent Night and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. And I loved every minute of it. I came out feeling peaceful, uplifted, grateful, happy and joyful. I had simply allowed the Christmas story (and, let’s face it, without it there would be no Jingle Bells, no ‘rocking around’ the Christmas tree, no huge meals, presents, family gatherings and no holiday), to work its magic.

Fancy a Pigeon’s chances


I was listening to the BBC World Service on Saturday afternoon and heard the tale of Paul the pigeon. Now Paul, identified by his ID ring as from the North East of England, had flown way off course on his cross-Channel race to France and was 483km out into the Atlantic. Presumably exhausted, he had the good fortune to land on the deck of British frigate HMS Somerset. That in itself was a stroke of luck but it gets better. On board was Leading Seaman William Hughes, an ex-pigeon fancier, who caught the peripatetic pigeon, constructed a temporary coop and fed him energy-giving breakfast cereal.  When Hughes checked ‘Paul’ over he found out that he was in fact a she. But why let a gender mix-up ruin a heart-warming tale?

On a deeper level this story is a reminder that sometimes when we lose our way, help is at hand and things are happening for good reason; we just can’t see it at the time. One of the quotes on a post-it note above my desk reads: “Don’t be in the know, be in the mystery.” Whether we’ve taken a leap of faith or somehow become de-railed, things often work out for the best – if we don’t interfere and, instead, let our lives unravel and reveal their own logic.

In January when I returned to Australia from a Christmas visit to family in Britain, I came down with flu almost the minute I stepped off the plane. With the sorest of sore throats, racking cough, sweating, vomiting and aching all over, it all felt too much to bear on top of the homesickness I always feel after visiting my native country. Lonely, weak, weary and unable to distract myself with television, reading or radio – everything hurt – I descended into a poor-me black hole. Big OUCH and Big Tears.

But being grounded and forced to STOP proved to be the biggest gift. Once I started to feel stronger, the survivor in me kicked in and I turned myself around into a more positive frame of mind. I sat in bed with a notebook and wrote out how I would like my life to look. To cut a long story short, I decided to leave an unfulfilling job and return to freelancing, to carry out some renovations to my house so I could more easily rent out a room, to get a dog and to put less effort into making things happen and experiment more with letting life come to me.

Thanks to the flu, I’m now free of a job that left me drained and despondent, I’ve reconnected with my writing, reached final design stage with my renovation plans and, best of all, Bertie dog is sitting under my desk as I write this. According to the article, Paul/Pauline has retired from racing. Sometimes, illness, accidents or other perceived dramas are just what we need to take us to the next stage of our journey.