Christmas was an especially difficult time of year for me. As other children waited in anticipation for the big day, I mimicked ambivalence. There was no gaily decorated tree for me; no gifts to look forward to; and no Christmas parties. My parents even barred me from the school party. I remember sitting outside the social hall doors reading a book and listening to the muffled music that played inside. Once in a while a teacher would remember to check that I was still there.
I would walk home past the neighbours’ houses. Even through thick net curtains I could often still see the twinkling lights on the tree. But my family was different. We were Jehovah’s Witnesses. We didn’t celebrate pagan festivals. We didn’t even celebrate birthdays. I had self righteousness as compensation, albeit a poor substitute for festive fun.
There was no family Christmas dinner for me. No table with turkey and roast potatoes. No plum pudding or Christmas crackers. One Christmas day my father took us all out knocking on doors to share our own particular brand of Gospel with the neighbourhood. It was a nightmare.
Of course I dreamed of being part of a normal family, Tree, Gifts, dinner, the Queen’s speech. But I also knew it could never happen.
It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s, after I first met God, that I got my first Christmas tree. Having been denied one for so many years it was huge, and I hung as many lights on it that would fit. Had it been outdoors I think you could have seen it from space.
My sister had left the family religion and was living with a non-believer. They were celebrating their first Christmas together and they had asked if my partner and I would like to join them. It was going to be a long drive from London to Newcastle, but it would be nice to see her, to meet her partner, and spend some time with my niece.
My mother lived just a few miles from my sister, and Christmas day was the only day that the whole family was available to go over for dinner. She worked part-time for a butcher and had been given a large turkey as a bonus, so she thought she might as well cook a roast dinner. And in her spare time she sold home-made plum puddings and fruit cakes, so we might as well have some of those for dessert. Afterwards my stepfather always liked to watch the Queen’s speech. It was only once a year, it just happened to be on Christmas day. My uncle, aunt, and grandmother would be there, as well as my sister, her husband, my niece, and my partner. I wondered how mum was gong to be able to get us all around the table.
Lots of planning, and shopping, and then suddenly it was Christmas Eve. The car was full of gifts. The ones for my mother and grandmother were wrapped in plain paper, but the rest were covered in so much glitter you’d have thought a fairy had exploded. I suppose one had.
It was a nice drive up the M1, unexpectedly easy. The weather held out the whole way, then, just as we passed the Angel of the North, it began to snow. Christmas songs played on the radio. My partner was asleep in the passenger seat. I was still trying to work out in my head how my mum was going to get all ten of us around the table, when it hit me.
For the first time in my life I was going home for Christmas.
Not only could God do the impossible. God had done the impossible – and done it for me.
And for no reason I could think of, except that God wanted to.
Tears rolled down my cheeks, along my nose, and onto my shirt. The sense of gratitude was so great I began to sob. How do you say ‘thank you’ for something like that? How do you respond to such love, to such kindness? Had Jesus been there I would have wept at his feet, clung to his legs, and worshipped him.
I wished I had some way to show Him how moved I was, how grateful I was, and what it all meant to me. ‘Thank you’ seemed so small, but it was all I had.
Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table.
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