Keeping Christ at the centre of Christmas is not easy. Every reader will be familiar with all the pressures of home, work and community life that clamour for attention. As a curate my vicar advised me not to be too pious about Christmas – ‘You can’t beat the pagan in Yuletide!’ he would say.

Nevertheless, an individual need not be buried in mince pies or washed away in sherry; neither is it inevitable for the mind to be filled with movie repeats or ‘Morecambe and Wise’. Over the years I have picked up a few very practical pieces of advice – here is my Christmas box to you, dear reader.

Firstly (and you’re too late for this!), get everything that can be prepared in advance ready before Advent begins. This frees up time and attention to more worthwhile preparations. But, assuming that this has not happened, the next advice is to make all the preparation prayerful. Do not shut the Lord out of writing Christmas cards – turn them into a means of prayer and thanksgiving for these people who for various reasons are part of your life. Do the same when receiving cards and make sure that ones which so magnificently portray the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas are given a place of honour – they will certainly make a prayerful focus in every room in the home.

Thirdly, do the same with Christmas shopping. Let the time and effort that goes into buying and wrapping gifts be a time to remember that person and your relationship with them in the Lord. Fourthly, how about tithing the amount of money you spend on gifts and giving it to charity? Fifthly, make a careful study of the Radio Times. There are some wonderful things to be heard and seen on radio and television at this time of the year. The temptation is to collapse in a heap in front of any old rubbish, when some judicious recording can enlighten, enliven and still entertain.

Sixthly, make use of the Christmas peace. Whether we like it or not, much of the country slows down to a stop for nearly a fortnight. Do not let it go for nothing. Make a point of reading a good book, catching up with friends and relatives – go to church! The liturgical year creates few times when the church itself is more beautiful. Why not spend one half-hour before the Christmas crib and read the gospel accounts of the Nativity? Why not join in the Offices during the holiday period?

This leads me on to the seventh point; there are twelve days in Christmas and they include two Sundays. The days after Christmas Day are rich indeed – St Stephen, St John the Evangelist, Holy Innocents. Although Christmas Day falls on a Sunday this year, this does not mean that a midweek trip to church is out of the question.

I find the Sundays after Christmas to be among the most joyful yet reflective in the whole calendar, partly because the congregations (though smaller) are gathered for Christ and him alone. The very worst thing is to join in the Christmas Eve candlelit scrum and say ‘that is duty done.’ In our household we make a determined effort to keep all twelve days despite the current trend of Christmas ending on Boxing Day!

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