YCW Magazine November 2018

I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

As schools workers we can fall in to the trap of assuming all the children or young people in our care are excited about the Christmas period when the truth may be very different. The reality is that we live in an age of poverty, not the Dickensian version of Britain, not even the class-related poverty of the 1970s and 80’s. Rather, this poverty is often hidden: working families relying on Foodbanks to feed their children; families who have had to flee a miserable existence, often exchanging it for one that’s not, at first, a whole lot better other than the absence of daily trauma or abuse. In modern 21st Century Britain, there are children or young people who will approach the Christmas holidays with a sense of dread as they are aware that while it feels like everyone else will enjoy good food and all the presents they want during the holiday season (assuming, rightly or wrongly), they will not. Or perhaps they are painfully aware that their family will buy and give mountains of gifts that they can’t really afford in order to make up for family breakdown or other loss of the past year. And even in a family who are not on the financial breadline, the expectations of Christmas holidays with all the media hype and pressure amongst peers and family to get the latest gadget or spend time with family members we don’t really get on with well can make Christmas holidays feel like a pressure cooker!

As Christians part of our calling is to present those around us with an alternative view on the world and, at Christmas time this is no different. The Christmas story is not one of eating and drinking until we can eat and drink no more, it is not one of exchanging gifts, decorating a tree, sending greetings cards or singing of snow falling in a part of the world where this is ludicrously unlikely. The Christmas story is one of uncertainty, waiting, poverty, rejection, and hope. In fact perhaps one of the most powerful bible verses which sum up Christmas, and in fact the whole gospel, is in Lamentations 3 and the Message version expresses it well:

19-21I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
    the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,

 and remembering, I keep a grip on hope

In this world of crazy expectations and broken relationships, we need stories of hope and peace more than quaint fairy tales that bear very little resemblance to the actual event surrounding Jesus’ birth. Of course the many traditions of Christmas in this country will be part of anyone’s celebrations, including our own. However, we need to show our children and young people that there is more, that in amongst these traditions are real people whose lives are far from perfect.

At the bottom of this article there are links to good organisations who produce Advent resources that are meaningful, focussing as they do on the themes of Hope, Joy, Peace and Love. It may also be worth considering including a ‘How to Handle Christmas’ session, either taking up a whole session or part of a session. Here are 5 tips for our children and young people which you could build discussion around or just use as a list on a piece of card for them to take away:

1. Relax. Find some time to be on your own or with just one other person whose company is easy. If you are able to, you might find it helps to have told the adults in your home ‘I need some space, my room is my space’ beforehand. If you don’t have your own room then point 2 gives you an alternative.

2. Move. Get outdoors, you might do this on your own or with your family. If you have a dog or other pet who needs walking then this is perfect – offer to walk the dog and you’ll get some fresh air, some alone time and probably also the gratitude of the person whose job it usually is. If you don’t have a dog but know someone who does then offer to walk their dog!

3. Express. If you have a hobby like skateboarding, cycling, writing, painting, drawing, reading, singing etc then keep it up. You could add something Christmas related to it or you can use it to reflect your mood. Anything that helps you express your feelings is a good thing.

4. Volunteer. You may need to ask your adults to assist you with this but there is a whole heap of things you can do: help out at the local foodbank, do something to raise money for a good cause, or perhaps bake some cookies for your neighbours. Helping others will help your mood.

5. Talk. If all else fails have someone you can call – whether that’s someone you know or even ChildLine on 0800 1111, talking to someone who will listen to you often brings relief from overwhelming situations. You don’t have to be at rock bottom to call ChildLine – it’s completely anonymous. If you have access to the internet then you could visit their website https://www.childline.org.uk/ where they have other tips and advice as well as message boards that are safe.

For ready-to-use resources on Advent I can recommend:

https://missiontogether.org.uk/advent/ Hope, Joy, Peace, Love

https://www.embraceme.org/christmas-resources Peace be with us