Christmas should be a happy time, but for many it can be too sad for words. Your unhappiness takes on an even darker colour when everyone else is practically commanded to be happy. The best wish we have for us all is, perhaps, a merry Christmas, hopefully a happy one, but certainly, no matter what happens, a peaceful one.
Good people create peace with themselves and their friends – and even with their enemies – at Christmas and we thank them for it. A deep sadness at Christmas is for those who have lost friends through accidents.
And even deeper for those who lost friends who ended their own lives. Irish people have always had an understanding of that particular sorrow – talking about how a person took a hand in his or her own death, as if saying they kept their human dignity, even in such an agony.
And agony it is also for those left behind. People of wonderful wisdom and goodwill ask us to watch out for signs that a person may have become tired of life, but often there is no sign at all, we just don’t know what deep thoughts our friends may have in mind, and we treat them with such delicacy that we dare not try too hard to find out. Our thoughts and theirs are so precious, but also so private.
Our thanks at Christmas go to all the people who make life better for us, reassure us that life is good, not just worth keeping, but worth being joyful in.
Sometimes we wonder, though, how easy or how hard do we make it for each other? All kinds of ideas and information are crowding in on us. That great stream of information, advice, enticement, persuasion and opinion helps to shape our own ideas. And a lot of it is dark, foreboding, depressive.Why? Our politics seem dark, many of our books are too, even what we give children to read is often dark, planting distrust of life even in the young ones. The flow of information and ideas is always tinged, and at times filled, with gloom. But surely there is some obligation on us – a privilege for us – to present each other with a vision of life that makes us want to be here and happy to be?
It is natural for people to want to live happily and we have a right to live that way, and with dignity. All the vast resources of this world and the next should be used to help that to happen. And if this means revising our ideas about the songs we sing, and the music, the films and stories and politics and attitudes to everything we present to each other, so be it.
The religious message was meant to offer us an alternative to unhappiness. If it does that it does what it was meant to do. If it does not, it is no wonder people walk away from it. We who have the right to happiness and dignity cannot be at peace if they are taken away from us, or never given at all.
Religious people have times of “voluntary hardship” every year. For the Christians Advent and Lent are moral renovations making ready for the birth and the triumph of divinity in this world. But people are wise about it. Too much hardship is not good for the soul. So they invented two Sundays – called happiness Sundays – and put them into the middle of both Advent and Lent. Even in the hardest of worlds, joy, they know, is a human right.
May your Christmas be in happiness and peace.