Has COVID changed our perception of Christmas?

'I love Christmas, I love everything about it, the anticipation on the faces of small children É' These words were the beginning of a sermon I wrote over thirty-five years ago. It was so successful that I used it for every Advent service I conducted for some years! I finally stopped using it when my son came with me to a service and sat in the front row, lip-syncing the sermon! From that moment on I have used new material every week.

However, the truth is that I do love Christmas and Christmas in the Kesseler house has followed a fixed plan since our children arrived over 45 years ago.

If there are children in the house, they awake to their Santa gifts, and then after breakfast that will usually involve scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, it is off to church.

The bigger, family presents are placed around the Christmas tree and are not opened until we return and are then opened one by one, with the whole family sharing who got what from whom.

This we did with our children and now with our grandchildren and we love it. Until last year. Christmas 2020 was different for us all. We did manage to deliver our presents to our son and daughter and their families before the day, but we then spent Christmas at home, just the two of us. We went to church on Zoom, and that was lovely, and we spoke to the children on Facetime which was also lovely. However, no hugs, no kisses and no shared feelings of excitement.

It made me realise two things. Firstly, how lucky we are to have family close enough to visit on special days and secondly, how much I value either spending Christmas with them or having them descend on our house for the festivities. People often say that Christmas is a time for children, but for me it is a time for family. That is what we really missed in 2020.

The story of Christmas revolves around family. Mary and Joseph leaving theirs behind to go to Bethlehem, because of government intervention. Their child being born without the involvement of grandparents and aunts and uncles, presents brought, but by strangers and contrasting messages of glory and portents of fear for the future. The birth of any baby changes the world of that child's parents, but the birth of baby Jesus changed the whole world. That continues to be a story worth sharing and worth celebrating.

As I write this, I don't know where we will be celebrating this year. Maybe at home surrounded by visiting grandchildren or at my son's house in Berkhamsted with his family. Wherever, it will follow our traditions. Santa presents, church, family presents and lunch with the special stuffing my daughter in law makes.

This year church on Christmas Day will either be Hall Green in person or on Zoom if I am 'hosting'. If we are in Berkhamsted it will be at the local Methodist church where I will remind them, courteously, that Christingle didn't begin with the Children's Society! Wherever we are, Christmas will always revolve around my two families. The extended Kesseler family and my church family. Together we will remember the birth of a child born a long way away, born in poverty in a borrowed barn, and soon to become a refugee in a foreign land. We will remember that, and we'll give thanks for our security, our homes and our family.

Thirty-five years ago, I pronounced my love for Christmas and I love it still. The memories of Christmases past, the sharing of Christmas present, and the hope of those to come. Wherever you are this Christmas I wish you joy and I continue to pray that the song of the angels will be heard across our troubled world: 'Peace on earth and goodwill to all'.

Br Blair Kesseler
Hall Green