Christmas Message

Christmas is the time when Christians everywhere gather to celebrate the birth of their Saviour and Messiah, Jesus Christ. Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God who was sent to this earth to offer us all salvation.

But it’s not just Christians who celebrate significant dates in their religious calendar during December.

This time of year is also significant for followers of the Jewish faith. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins on December 18th and lasts for the next eight days. A central part of the Jewish Festival of Lights entails the lighting of a nine-branched menorah each night (the ninth candle being used to light the others).

Islam doesn’t celebrate Christmas as a messianic festival but does recognise Jesus as a significant prophet born of the Virgin Mary. As the holy Quran records Jesus as saying, Ayah Maryam (Mary) 19:33, “Hence, peace was upon me on the day when I was born, and on the day of my death, and on the day when I shall be raised to life”.

Then there’s Bodhi Day, also known as Rohatsu. This Buddhist celebration, which takes place on December 8th, honours the day on which the Buddha (Siddartha Gautauma) is said to have achieved enlightenment.

In contrast, from what I can see, the Hindu religion seems to abound with festivals during December this year (I seem to have counted 39). Most Hindu festival dates are determined by the position of the sun and moon, but they can also depend on location and differ widely between different time zones.

Then let’s not forget Yule, which is celebrated by Wiccans between December 21st and January 1st. This is a time when followers of the Wiccan traditions celebrate the winter solstice through the festival of Yule. Yule celebrates the re-emergence of the sun and the days beginning to grow longer again.

Finally, there’s Zarathosht Diso, which is celebrated on December 26th by Zoroastrians. Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions and was founded by the Prophet Zoroaster more than 3,000 years ago. Zoroastrians visit fire temples and offer prayers to honour the death of their prophet on December 26th.

At this stage, I do have to admit that I’m not a religious scholar, and all the above is the result of a morning’s internet searching across multiple sources. So if any of the information above is incorrect or incomplete, or if I’ve missed an important date in any faith’s calendar, please accept my sincere apologies!

My point is that this time of year is of significance to almost all of us in one way or another, and even if, like me, you don’t have any deep religious convictions, you can still recognise that this is traditionally a time for families to come together, for goodwill to be shown to our neighbours, and for communities to put aside their differences and celebrate their common interests.

This last year has not been easy on so many of us.

Still, rising food, housing, and energy costs have taken their toll, with far too many (one is too many) families facing the cold of winter having to make the choice between food and heat.

We’ve all seen the suffering and devastation caused by conflict and unrest around the world on our television screens every day. But to many of our residents, that hurt is personal. Our town’s Ukrainian, Afghan, and Syrian families, our local Jewish and Islamic communities, and our Hong Kong Chinese residents have all seen their peoples, even their families, caught up in atrocities and war.

Natural disasters, too, will take their toll in 2023. Morocco, Libya, Turkey, Syria, the USA, China, Canada, etc. have all suffered terribly through floods, earthquakes, or wildfires. Global relief organisations have been stretched almost to breaking points in their efforts to offer help and aid.

The one thing that all these trials and tribulations have shown us is that when a community comes together and acts together, it can achieve wonderful things. We saw images of whole communities working together to dig survivors out of rubble, form chains to pass buckets of water to douse a fire, or rescue a stranded neighbour from a flood.

We know that together, we are stronger!

… and that is just as true here in Trowbridge as it is anywhere.

We are so lucky here; we have fantastic local charities, faith groups, and individuals who strive daily to offer help and comfort to those in need in our town.

We have local charities like Storehouse, which work tirelessly throughout the year to not only run a food bank that helps those who struggle to feed their families but also provide a hot meal, a shower, and laundry facilities to those living on the streets or without a fixed home of their own.

We have the clubs and church halls (like the Park Club and St. John’s in Studley) across the town that offer a warm space and a hot drink to those who have a home but are struggling to heat it.

We have lunch clubs (for example, the Monday/Wednesday Club at Bethesda Baptist Church) that will make sure that the most vulnerable in our community get a nutritious hot meal at least once a week.

The list goes on, but the other thing all these groups provide, apart from practical or physical help, is simple human company. The companionship that they offer is almost as vital and necessary to someone surviving alone on the streets, someone living alone in a cold house, or someone alone in a dysfunctional relationship as the food and sustenance they offer.

For example, I was up in the Home Farm area of Trowbridge on Tuesday, 19th, where local residents had clubbed together to buy and install a community public defibrillator. This is an act of pure selflessness by the inhabitants of just four streets that will help ensure the safety of anyone in the area.

Then I was at the Storehouse Foodbank Christmas lunch on Wednesday. Not only did they provide a traditional Christmas lunch for sixty of their customers, but they also unveiled a new shower and laundry suite that will serve those without access to a warm bathroom or a washing machine of their own. The dignity this will return to anyone in that situation must be almost immeasurable!

These are the living examples of the “Christmas spirit” that we see every day in our town. These are the groups and individuals that should define us, not the anti-social vandals that set fire to rubbish bins and smashed windows; they are not worth our attention. They do not represent us, and they certainly don’t represent the spirit of Christmas.

So here’s wishing all you lovely people a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful and joyous New Year. Whatever divides us, please do remember that there’s always more that unites us, and it’s those bonds that make us stronger.

That’s almost it for 2023, so until next year… keep safe and, please, be kind to each other.

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