Hope. Christmas is full of Hope.

Ironically it is easy to be melancholy at Christmas time. Christmas is, at least in the Western world, a time for families, togetherness, celebrations over meals and for Christians, the time of the year to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the birth of God’s Son, Saviour and representative on this earth.

Perhaps melancholy at this time of year is not such a stretch. Families disperse for all sorts of reasons, beloved family members die, some people are more worried about their immediate financial or residential future to worry about what might be on their table at Christmas. There are some that will have been hurt by their experience with “religious people” and who have no need to be reminded by the occurrence of another religious festival.

Some may think that perhaps this melancholic phenomenon is a recent one. Say, latter 20th century recent, with all the family breakups, rabid consumerism and departure from “good old-fashioned values” that a modern age has brought.

I don’t believe it. Christmas for as long as it has been celebrated has occurred in Europe and North America as a mid-winter festival. The days are short, the weather is freezing. I bet there were big blizzard years when no one moved very far, long before snowed in airports became the bane of 21st century travellers. Cold weather, short days and a general lack of sunlight are not good for the healthiest of people let alone those who are biologically pre-disposed to depressive melancholy.

And yet. And yet. Human beings have survived several millenia despite inhospitable winter conditions. Although the origins of 25th December being the celebration of Christ’s birthday are uncertain, it has been noted that one explanation is that it is close to the date of pagan northern hemisphere winter solstice celebrations. Early Christian Church leaders were thought to want to draw the attention away from pagan celebrations towards the Christian faith. One way or another, Europeans in particular, in the depths of the hardest time of the year, were determined to celebrate getting half way through winter and started looking forward to longer and warmer days ahead. As the focus moved to the birth of Christ, there was similarly hope that from humble beginnings, Christ was destined to become Our Saviour for the eternal life ahead. Pagan or Christian, the message is one of hope. That better is ahead, whether temporal or eternal.

At least according to Western calendars, December is at the end of the year. Christmas is almost at the end of December. Human beings are wired to take notice of patterns, seasons and the tick over of time. With Christmas almost at the end of one year and with traditions of feasting and meeting up with extended family, what better time to also consider the year ahead? And the hope of a New Year is that its story is yet untold, there is the possibility of having dreams fulfilled, there is time to make new beginnings.

So while the approach of Christmas can be melancholy for those that cannot be with family, or will not enjoy a sumptuous feast, the New Year nevertheless beckons. Christmas, a mere week before the New Year, is a time for Christians to recall the birth of Christ the Saviour. For the Pagans, there is much to rejoice at having got at least half way through a tough winter (or trying summer)! For all it is a time to pause, to tell stories of the year gone by and to anticipate the year ahead.

However you look at it, Christmas heralds Hope, Christmas is full of Hope!

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