I love Christmas. Not just because it’s an excuse for overindulgence but because when I walk around the streets and in the shopping centres everyone seems so excited. There is the general feeling of expectations for the big day. Music clearly plays a big part in the festive season whether that be the Christmas songs from the 70s blaring out from distorted amplifiers or the Salvation Army band assembled on strategic thoroughfares. A couple of years ago I was wandering through a shopping centre at Christmas with a Muslim friend of mine who, having recently returned from Mecca, was wearing a traditional dress. As the Salvation Army started playing there was my friend belting out “hark the herald angels sing” at the top of her voice. As she launched into the second verse I realised that she knew more of the words than I did! Whether you look on the Christmas holiday as a religious festival or simply an excuse for partying and having a good time, there is no doubt that it can be a time for bringing family and friends together in joy, celebration and hopefully, reconciliation.

Unfortunately there is a downside to Christmas which most people seem to ignore. Christmas is expensive! I remember as a lad being delighted with my Christmas present which was a leather football and an orange. 50 years on expectations are far greater. The pressure to buy your child the season’s favourite toy, that one which “everyone must have”, seems to be greater than ever. Not everyone can afford to follow these passing fads and the number of people getting into serious debt for Christmas increases year on year. The “need” for a massive Christmas feast in a home decked with miles of tinsel also highlights the difference between the “haves” and the “have nots” of society; in particular targeting those that have neither homes nor feasts.

Having all the family round for Christmas day seems a wonderful idea. However statistics show that significantly more relationships break down at this time of year than at any other.

Fortunately there are people out there working hard to rescue Christmas. Not the Santa Claus heroes of the Christmas movies but ordinary people from all walks of life and all faiths who feed the poor and the lonely; put a roof over the heads of the homeless; provide financial advice for those who cannot make ends meet and offer family mediation to repair relationships. These are the folk who show the true spirit of Christmas – but wouldn’t it be good if society didn’t need them!