By Rev. Gunther Andrich, Irvinestown Presbyterian Church

For me, Christmas is a special time because of all the childhood memories that were embedded every time the season came around.

I still remember the quirky combination of a Northern-German traditional Christmas in the middle of a Southern Hemisphere summer played out near Cape Town, South Africa. It was the 1970’s, so we would hear songs on vinyl records featuring cheerful lights on snowy nights, only to bask on a sunny beach and swim in the warm sea the following day. My first Northern Christmas was in Sweden about 30 years ago. Not only was it a white Christmas, with the myriad lights winking at me from every window, but the baking brought the same lovely smells back, cookies with bits of marzipan, coconut, ginger and saffron.

Another thing that makes Christmas special to me is the communal spirit of something mutually enjoyed across a diverse society. This feeling is best captured for me in the words of a Chris Rhea song: “I take look at the driver next to me, he's just the same, he's driving home…driving home for Christmas”. Of course, the retailers need to jostle to get their wares across our line of sight, so that we can give gifts and throw parties for those we love. So, when the same song is aired in the shop, town square and radio station, we make our peace with the repetition and bank the atmosphere. Speaking of songs, George Michael’s Last Christmas reminds of the heartache flipside of Christmas for many. A seasoned gentleman said to me a few days ago: “Yes, for the young ones Christmas is all sweetness and light, but for many of us older ones, it is a time when we feel our bereavements a wee bit more sharply”. We remember those who need their own space. However, Christmas also brings an opportunity to invite some into our circle who would rather soften the sense of loss with merry company

Finally, Christmas is special because large swathes of populations and cultures across the planet do more than just fix their calendars by the birthday of the Christ. They also hear and sometimes even sing powerfully inspired carols. Evocative music, with words which draw straight lines: from the sinless baby to the wrath removing death in our place on the cross. And if the story ended at the cross, it would have been better to stay in Bethlehem. But there was a resurrection and a coronation, and there will be a return, to make everything new again. No wonder folk in Judea were divided. Herod and the religious elite wanted to get rid of Him. But the shepherds, angels and the eastern astrologers could do no other but worship Him. It’s the same today. And when He draws near, He can give us a fresh start, even heal simmering family feuds. As in Mark Lowry’s song: “Mary did you know… this Child that you delivered, will soon deliver you.”