“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to people of goodwill”.
So, according to the bible, spoke the angels to the Shepherds who journeyed to pay respects to the newborn Jesus in the hours after his birth. Though those words were recorded two millennia ago, and regardless of whether they are apocryphal or a faithful recording, fewer sentences more accurately sum up the modern meaning of Christmas.
For many Christians, today is a day that validates and confirms the majesty of their faith. That God himself descended from the heavens, and chose to walk amongst us, experiencing for himself the trials and tribulations of being human, in order to grant to us his salvation. For believers, it is a time for celebration and joy.
But the joy of Christmas is not limited simply to those who are faithful Christians. It is, perhaps, the only time of the year when all of us, regardless of faith or nation or status, are united in goodwill towards each other. “Happy Christmas”, we say to perfect strangers. We spend our hard-earned money on gifts to make other people feel happy. “The Christmas Spirit” is not something we imagine, but something very real, that infects us all, even the most hardened cynic.
In a society that promotes competitiveness, and conflict, these few days provide a welcome respite, and valuable perspective, about what really matters. For many people, Christmas is a painful time precisely because they are thinking about what really matters. For those who have lost a loved one this year, at Christmas that absence is felt most acutely. For those who have welcomed a new child, that first Christmas is a very special moment.
It is fitting, and right, that in this part of the world at least, Christmas takes place in the deepest depths of winter, in some of the shortest, and usually coldest, days of the year. While many animals rely on hibernation and sleep to see them through to summer, humans console themselves with the joy of each other.
It is regrettable then that for so many people, Christmas is something that they approach with trepidation and dread. In many households up and down the country, people are feeling pressure today to make your day special. Parents will have struggled and saved and worried, and in some cases put their own financial security at risk, just to ensure that their children have a memorable day. Spare a thought for your own parents today, even if you have children of your own, and thank them for making all your own childhood Christmases so special.
Above all, though, let us try and hold on to that Christmas spirit a little longer this year. If there was no conflict or disagreements between us, there would be very little news, which is one reason Christmas is a bad time for newspapers, and websites like this one. But no news, as the old saying goes, is good news.
In Ireland, beneath the surface there are many tensions, and a tendency to blame each other for our own misfortunes. In particular, the debate around immigration is growing more tense. At Christmas, we might recognise that while it is perfectly right and just for every country to have an immigration policy, and the right to limit immigration, it is never right, or just, to blame individual immigrants for our problems as a nation. Across the country, and the world, today, people are missing loved ones, and those who are far away from home are wishing that they were with their families. Those bonds and desires transcend any difference between us – we are, in the end, all human.
So this Christmas, which is our first, we wish every one of our readers, of all faiths and nationalities and beliefs, a very happy and peaceful Christmas.
The new year will bring its challenges and its problems, and its opportunities, as every year does. But for now, let us pause, and remember that all of us, regardless of where we are, or what our status in life is, are loved.
From the editors, peace to people of goodwill.