We have family in Australia and in a recent skype call, our son said “the weather is warming up now” because of course, in the southern part of the globe they are preparing for summer.
The world keeps turning with its cycles of light and dark, warmth and cold, growth and rest and after our very hot summer, autumn is well under way and soon winter will be upon us; the damp and darkness, the ice and snow. And we will celebrate Christmas.
I once asked a group of school children (not in Littleport) whether it would be Christmas in Africa; they thought for a bit and then said no, it wouldn’t be Christmas in Africa. Rapidly, I revised what I had been going to say in the assembly and asked why not? The answers came back that it is hot in Africa and it has to be cold for Christmas, the people are poor and can’t buy presents and finally, Christmas is about happiness and people in Africa aren’t happy.
It was astonishing because these were ten and eleven year olds, broadly from privileged and well-travelled backgrounds, at a school which prided itself on its multicultural awareness (!) We chatted for a bit; about time zones, calendars and stuff, and gradually the realisation dawned that actually, it would be Christmas in Africa.
I have acknowledged in these pages before that the early Church did Christianise the winter festival of Saturnalia, saying that the Light of Christ is the true light you are looking for. As an exercise in visual aids it was a stroke of genius, but the downside is that the celebration of Christmas becomes the antidote to feeling cold and wet. So, the fact that Christmas will be celebrated in hot climates too is the corrective we perhaps need; that the Light of Christ is the gift to the whole world, a world which had forgotten God, but God had not forgotten it. Or us.
Christmas is the promise that God is with us, always. Christ came into the biggest empire the world had yet seen, at a time of oppression (nothing much new in that) and whilst into a family, it wasn’t a straightforward family arrangement. And whether we are cold or hot, damp or dry, the message of joy and promise is the same whoever we are.
There is a New Zealand carol called “An upside down Christmas” – I once got a church choir to hastily sing it when we found there were New Zealanders in the congregation. The last verse is:
Right side up Christmas belongs to the universe,
Made in the moment a woman gives birth;
Hope is the Jesus gift, love is the offering,
Everywhere, anywhere, here on the earth.