I love Christmas. As a child it was always a happy and fun time. Having grown up on a Northland farm, Christmas was usually a few days break from the hot hard work of either haymaking, or shearing.
While there was not the emphasis on the Christian message of God taking the form of a baby, there was a celebration of being a happy family. Life had its stresses. This was usually around high expectations of our schooling, and the time that had to be put into the farm work. Holidays away from the farm were rare, and short. I was always worrying that my school grades were not good enough. But Christmas was a time to forget the pain of both poor school grades, and the tragedy of bad farming outcomes, despite the hard work. It was a time to hope that after celebrating the start of a new year, school and farming would achieve more. So, celebrating is about gratitude for what we had, and less emphasis on what we did not have.
Celebration always brings good memories. This builds a resilience, or an expectation that even with times of pain and loss, there is always something to hope for. People who celebrate Christmas, New Year, Easter, birthdays, and weddings, with a big family and lots of friends, can have so much fun to look forward to. Celebrating a wedding anniversary builds intimacy into a relationship.
We need to be creative and make our own special celebrations, as a family. Our first child, Emma, was born with severe spina bifida. In the first year of her life, my wife and I would change the dressings on this wound on her back, to protect her from infection and grow the skin required for the operation that would eventually close the massive hole in her back. Each dressing change would take an hour as we carefully removed the old dressing, an applied a new dressing, four hourly, day and night. There were many operations, and many months of home care and recovery. As a family we celebrated a rocky road day. A day in the year when we would eat just about everything rocky road. The biscuits, ice cream and chocolate bars were about saying not everything in life goes well. Bad things happen. But we can overcome so much by celebrating the good doctors, hospital care, and support of family and friends.
All celebrations build a belonging and bonding, whether as partners, or with family and friends, or as a community. It is important to respect all the different ways in which other cultures celebrate, even if that may not take place within our own culture, or family. Diwali, the Chinese New Year, Islamic Ramadan, or the Jewish Passover are all valid and important celebrations. Adopting Matariki as a national celebration of the Tangata Whenua is an important step of showing a greater respect for the Maori culture. It will do me good to learn how to put down a hangi for a Matariki celebration.
While Christmas was always a happy family time, it has become a greater personal celebration of peace and joy. I can believe that God would, and did create a baby Jesus, within his mother Mary, and dwell fully in him. I celebrate Easter because this is the basis of a reconciliation between God and mankind. But the greatest celebration that bought real joy & peace, was that the Spirit of God had a basis on which to come into me and connect with my spirit, through the life of the person Jesus. I had a spiritual birthday that joined Christmas, Easter, and eternity together as a needed celebration of God’s love for me. Believing that God was in Jesus is essential to also believing that God can be in us to. As in the time of Jesus 2000 years ago, many were not open to God being in the world in this way. Even today, the celebration of Christmas for many is not much more than a good story, with food and gifts. But for me, it is important to link the celebration of Christmas as a part of a celebration of an eternal life. What greater hope and peace is there than celebrating Christmas with people, for whom you share eternity with.
Peter Conaglen is a qualified auditor and chartered accountant. He is the director of Charity Integrity Audit, a specialist accountancy firm providing assurance services to charities and non-profit organisations.