Kate Bottley’s Christmas message

17 December 2019

Christmas should be Kate Bottley's idea of heaven - but even she admits that it isn’t always a perfect paradise.

I love nothing more than a full diary and a full house – with absolutely no idea of how I’m going to manage it all. I also adore all things sparkly. So Christmas should be my idea of heaven. But I confess that it isn’t always a perfect paradise. By the time Christmas Day rolls around I’m often tired of carol services and perpetual cheerfulness. The thought of spending the Big Day alone, under the duvet with a box of toffees and the Queen, is very appealing. 

But if I did spend Christmas Day by myself, it would be by choice. I’ve got a husband and children, plus friends and extended family living close by. Once I’ve had my fill of arguments over Monopoly, I can sneak upstairs to get my breath back. This choice to enjoy both my own company and other people’s is a luxury; not everyone has that privilege. Maybe their family lives far away or perhaps they’re spending their first Christmas without a loved one and the thought of being in a crowd is just too much.

Festive adverts don’t help. It’s all beautiful parties and jolly multitudes gathered around the table – and always so darn twinkly! It can throw our own plans into stark contrast. I’ve never spent Christmas entirely without family, but I know people who have. Some flounder but others have found ways of not only managing, but of making their solitary Christmas look almost as sparkly as the adverts. In one of my parish churches there was just such a woman; I’ll call her Rosemary. 

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Rosemary was bereaved in her fifties; she had no children and an extended family who lived too far away to visit. Besides, as Rosemary put it, they had ‘lives of their own’. But Rosemary was the Queen of Christmas and knew how to celebrate. In the last weeks of November, she’d begin baking and making. Her Christmas cakes were the stuff of legend.

In the first week of December each year she’d choose a charity to dedicate her energies to. One year it was filling a shoebox with toys for a charity that gives presents to children overseas, the next year Rosemary put together toiletry bags for homeless people. She shopped, wrapped and wrote notes to people she’d never meet, sharing seasonal joy.

The church nativity play wouldn’t have happened without her. She supplied scenery and made costumes, rustling up last-minute tea towels for the Wise Men. Rosemary was a carol service groupie. She turned up to the nursing home, the Scouts, the Mother’s Union and all three school services – and that was before any of the official Nine Lessons and Carols.

And on Christmas morning she always had sweets for the kids and a bottle of sherry for me and the organist. I don’t know how she did it. But I do know why she did it. In the vestry I said to her, ‘Christmas is magic, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, it is,’ she replied, ‘but sometimes you just have to make the magic yourself.’

It’s hard enough to make the Christmas magic happen when you have a houseful, but it takes a real commitment to the season and determination to make merry when you don’t have lots of folk around you.

Rosemary was a Christmas marvel, but – like those sparkly adverts – she might have set the standard a tiny bit high. Perhaps there’s no need to take it as far as she did, but even a small gesture might help the season shine a bit brighter.

Maybe the magic could be found in joining a carol service or popping into church for a quiet pause to light a candle. Or perhaps you might find sparkle in decorating a tree or setting up a nativity scene, even if there’s just you and the cat to enjoy it.

And if you would like to be with other people, don’t forget that, as well as the church, soup kitchens and shelters for homeless people would not only welcome your help, they would also love your company.

As Rosemary pointed out, sometimes the magic of Christmas is something we need to conjure up for ourselves.

However you spend the season, I hope you have a blessed and beautiful Christmas.


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