Nostalgia at Christmas and Learning from the Children….

Do you find it hard to let go of Christmas?

It’s that time again when we have the slight lull that follows the festivities of Christmas Day with all the celebrating, eating and family time, before gearing ourselves up for the onslaught of the New Year. It is one of the precious few times of the year when we have several days off in a row (at least in our house), forget which day it is, and where we have time for lay-ins and cooked breakfasts before a leisurely walk or perhaps a trawl through the sales.

I always struggle with this time of year; I don’t like giving up on Christmas. I cling on to the twinkling lights and the decorations for as long as possible. I inwardly cringe when I hear people saying they can’t wait to ‘get back to normal’, or that they have already taken their decorations down the day after Boxing Day. I don’t get it. It’s dark. WE need lights. WE need to keep the fun going as long as possible and enjoy the time of year that allows us to slow down.

Whilst saying all this, I appreciate Christmas isn’t an easy time for some. For those struggling with illness, financial problems, or loss, it can be hard to face all the Christmas festivities. There is something so poignant about this time of year; it’s as if the world around us has altered in readiness for the revered time, and in the midst of the hectic build up there is a certain heightening of emotion which can be hard to cope with at times. For me, this was my first Christmas without my beloved dad; we missed him hugely, and I’m sure we weren’t the only family struggling not to look at an empty chair at this time.

I consider myself to be fairly senior now and I look back down the years with more than a little nostalgia, especially at this time of year. Memories flood back from Christmas’s past and I am plunged into certain wistfulness. The seasons seem to be getting shorter and shorter with the space between them constantly shifting and moving on before we have had chance to enjoy the present. At our local garden centre, Santa had moved in in October and was back in the North Pole before we knew it. (Although the grotto was amazing). All that remains in the Christmas store now are a few sad and bedraggled decorations selling at knock down prices, whilst the summer barbecue equipment is coming back in through the door, along with the garden furniture and the patio heaters. I have never been able to work out who would buy these things in the still dark days of winter, but obviously some people do. Don’t get me wrong, I know we can’t cling on to Christmas for too long, but surely we can wait a few more weeks before calling time on everything festive.

I am sure now I will never be the Queen of England. I would put money on it. I’m not even remotely in line to the throne, although I must say, I can do quite a good royal wave, but if I WERE ever to be Queen, or Prime Minister (now there’s a thought) the first thing I would do would be to create a public holiday at the end of January. I have always thought that would be a very good idea. It wouldn’t be nearly so bad clearing up after Christmas if we knew there was another holiday on the horizon. Like a ‘Goodbye to Winter, Spring is on the horizon’ sort of holiday.

I don’t want to see chocolate creme eggs in the shops during the first weeks of January, and although I am a romantic, I’m not yet ready to see Valentine’s cards either.

You have probably deduced that I don’t bother with starting a new diet or a new project on January 1st. I will just try and stick to the healthy diet I have always tried to follow, not always successfully, but then we all fail from time to time. I will try and keep up my daily walks and do the odd bit of meditation, but I won’t be setting any rules that will be broken a few weeks down the line. Yet I think I need to view things a little differently. One thing I have noticed this season whilst watching and listening to my grandchildren is this: children love Christmas and everything about it. They are able to plunge in to all the happy things about this time with more or less total abandon. They are (usually) happy to wear a tea towel on their heads and pose as a shepherd, or as an assistant alien as in our grandson’s case, and wave happily to an adoring audience. They think it is quite normal to listen out for distant bells and gaze expectantly at the sky on Christmas Eve. They are more than happy to get up in the early hours of Christmas Day and jump up and down with excitement. But as Christmas draws to a close they move on to new days and new experiences, running headlong into the New Year and all the new experiences it will bring.

That seems to me to be the best way to go about things.

So as this year draws to a close I wish you all good things – a chance to walk in frosty lanes when all the world is quiet, stillness when you need it, and joy and laughter too. The love of family and the familiarity and warmth that lasting friendships bring. And for all of us, I wish us the gift of peace.

Ps. Perhaps keep the fairy lights going for another week…….

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What If You Were Homeless?

How would we cope without our essential home comforts this Christmas time?

Last week I was out and about doing some Christmas shopping. As I walked through the busy Oxford streets, just one of many people with thoughts of the busy time ahead, I noticed several homeless people huddled in doorways, some completely cocooned inside sleeping bags. I wondered if the person inside felt that the harsh outside world would disappear if they shielded themselves from prying eyes and the reality of their situation. I also wondered why these people preferred to sleep during the day but then I realised it probable felt safer – maybe there was less likelihood of being attacked or abused during the day. Like everyone else, I walked on past the homeless people. Sadly it is a common occurrence to see people living on the streets.

But then, later in the day, laden with shopping bags and having been lucky enough to enjoy lunch in a restaurant, I was approached by an elderly man asking for help. He tried to sell me a scruffy scarf saying it wasn’t glamorous but it was all he had to offer in exchange for some money. He said he hadn’t eaten since the day before. He was disheveled and looked desperate. He was polite and softly spoken. I looked into his eyes and saw despair and so I gave him enough money for a sandwich and a hot drink. I like to think he did use the money for that. I hope he did as I know a meal was what he needed the most. Whatever happened, I made the choice to give.

This year we seem to have the highest number of homeless people on our streets than we have seen for many years. Something is terribly wrong. What makes us get used to seeing people desperately needing help and a roof over their heads as part of everyday life?  For those of us with our heads in the sand, it is time to look at the facts – being homeless can happen to any of us  – a bad sequence of events can cause almost anyone to be caught up in a devastating spiral of loss.

Causes of homelessness are : poverty, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, poor physical or mental health, addiction, family and relationship breakdown, and violence or abuse. Low wages and irregular work can cause someone struggling on benefits to slip badly into arrears with rent and have no means to keep themselves solvent. People once able to cope see themselves uses food banks to keep themselves and their families fed.

I have heard it said that homeless people deserve to be on the streets and that they are all drug addicts or alcoholics. I have even known people question why so many homeless people have dogs – surely they can’t be that badly off? But a loving pet can be a lifeline when living without a home and social support. Remember, over 80 per cent of people are ‘between homes’ in most cases the individual had the pet while living in a previous home and wants to continue caring for it. Homelessness can be very isolating and pet companionship is known to help people feel happier and live longer.Maybe too, a homeless person will feel more protected with an animal by his or her side.

Most of the time, drink and drugs is not the cause of homelessness some may turn to drink and drugs as a way of coping with their desperate situations and who can blame them? There are hidden aspects to homelessness; it’s not just people sleeping in a shop window, but families floating from hotel room, to couch or B&B each night.

There are many issues that need to be resolved before we will see real change for the better, and before living on the streets will be a thing of the past. As we all know, our political system is in total disarray – logical thinking seems to have gone out of the window –  but here are ways we can all help to make a difference:

1. See people not labels.

2. Contact an organisation like the Salvation Army if you are worried about someone you see sleeping rough.

3. Make a donation this Christmas to one of The Homelessness Services. You can visit the Salvation Army page.

4. Reach out for support if you are worried for a family member.

http://www.salvationarmy.org.uk

http://www.nhs.uk/service-search.

http://www.england.shelter.org.uk

It is amazing to think that billions of pounds are being spent on a high-speed railway in the UK,  with preparations for this bulldozing their way through the country at a time when poverty is a serious problem…..I could go on…..

I am lucky, very lucky, to have a roof over my head this Christmas and good food on my table. I am blessed with the love and companionship of family. I am enjoying all the preparations for the week ahead. However, as the wind howls outside my door and the rain beats down on the roof, I cannot help but think of the lonely man with the haunted eyes who crossed my path for a moment. He had a life once.

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Why We Should All Walk the Brightest Path…

We should all be able to feel safe this Christmas, in all four corners of the world..

This morning we took an early morning walk. The sun had just come up but there was a chill in the air making us hope we have a cold, crisp Christmas .

As we wound our way round the village and walked back up the hill toward the woods behind Dove Lane, the path beneath our feet sparkled in the winter sun. Looking more closely, I could see there were hundreds of glass chips embedded in the tarmac. I had never noticed this before; maybe it was the direction of the sun or the time of day, but the effect was magical. The path glittered like something out of a fairy tale and I half expected to be transported to a different land – maybe if I had wished hard enough I may have seen one of Santa’s elves peaking out from behind one of the trees! I thought about the beauty that surrounds us whoever we are and whatever our circumstances; rich or poor, we are all entitled to walk along a glittery pathway.

We are all created as equals. Sometimes it is easy to forget that. I certainly do. I think most of us, at some time in our lives, have looked up at someone we see as more famous, wealthy or seemingly more accomplished than ourselves and felt a little overshadowed. It is a habit that is hard to shake off. But we all have our skills, our own uniqueness that no-one can take away. We can all have a chance to shine and take a walk along a special path. There are so many unsung heroes we may pass along the way; those who carry on in the most dire circumstances, and still raise a smile.

This time of year, as I rush around crossing things off my long Christmas ‘to do’ list I often stop in my tracks and remember to be grateful. There are so many people without a roof over their heads, both in our country and in foreign lands. So many innocent children caught up in wars that have absolutely nothing to do with them apart from raging in the lands they happen to be born in. How can this be? The contrast between different lives is sometimes overwhelming.

One day, I hope there will be a world where every child, indeed every human being, has a home where they feel safe and secure at Christmas and all through the year – a place where they can stop and look out through the window at the moon and stars, and feel at peace.

I sat drinking a hot chocolate with a friend today and we talked about life; how things sometime surprise us and turn out differently than expected. How sometimes it’s hard to take the rough with the smooth. How busy life can be at times. But would we really want to walk in anyone else’s shoes, however important they are?

I love this Malagasy proverb –

‘ A canoe does not know who is King, when it turns over, everyone gets wet.’

I hope you can walk the glittery Christmas path today.

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