Tension, expense and the pressure to have the “perfect” experience seem to have sucked much of the love and true meaning out of Christmas.
Those of us who have the resources can smooth away the strain by buying gifts, decorating our homes, splurging on food, drinks and entertainment, and going away on holidays. We can avoid the problems through consumption, by overlaying the messages of peace and joy with lots of “stuff”. Then we can return to our jobs to earn the money to pay it off.
But imagine what it’s like to be poor in a society that buys its way into happiness. Imagine what it’s like to be one of 1.8 million Australians who don’t have enough work, or one of six children growing up in a household where no adult has paid work. Christmas can be fraught with tension. In poverty you’ve got the problem of trying to have the Christmas experience, with no resources to finance it, and double the anxiety.
Before parents on low incomes can even think about buying presents or putting a Christmas meal on the table, they must find money to cover basic holiday costs. For working parents this can be child care or the mounting costs of keeping children entertained and happy over the summer break. For parents living on social security payments, it’s a long bleak stretch without much relief.
If parents manage to get through this time without going into debt or experiencing acute financial stress, the next challenge is to find the money for back-to-school expenses. At the end of summer when many families have just enough to cover the basics, they have to find extra money for uniforms, shoes, bags, lunchboxes, books and pencils.
So because Christmas looms for an increasing number of Australians as the first in a series of stressful waves, it can feel like a season to dread rather than celebrate with joy.
However, for many of us it could be extremely valuable if we see it as a time to reflect on our society, and think about the society we want to create and what our role could be in making that happen.
I am personally inspired to think that we can create a society where each of us loves, and is loved, above all else. I believe this message of love for all is what we sorely need to hear throughout the world, regardless of faith.
Christmas does, however, mean something particular to me, an ordained Anglican priest, as it will to other Christians. I actively chose this faith at the age of 25 and became ordained as a priest in my 30s because I was inspired by Jesus’s life and its revelation of God’s message of love for all.
And at the Brotherhood of St Laurence we are focusing on inclusion and love for all, particularly for isolated and vulnerable people who don’t have a great deal to look forward to at this time of the year. Along with many others, we’re doing what we can to provide love to those who may be disadvantaged in some way. And I believe through including and loving others, Christmas can be “worth the trouble” for all Australians.
We hold on to an image of ourselves as a nation of people who give others a fair go. While this is often challenged, I’d like to think that we will all continue to aim for a fair society, to share opportunities and be welcoming.
If we think about what it takes to create an Australia where each of us loves and is loved, and dismiss the pressure to have that "perfect" Christmas experience, I believe Christmas can be a powerful time of hope, not trouble, for all Australians.
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