I have to confess to a guilty festive secret; I love those cheesy American Christmas films that show on Netflix and the 24-hour channels. I know they are predictable and usually follow a very similar story line: someone hates Christmas until they meet a romantic interest who changes their mind; someone saves Christmas in a town by stopping some sort of new building development; or someone returns to their hometown and meets their old flame and the time of year leads to a renewal of romantic feelings. But they are undemanding of the viewer and always have a happy ending, so I like them.
But this year, as I watched a few in a row whilst writing my Christmas cards, I began to realise that every one of these movies package Christmas in exactly the same way. There are always red and green decorations, fairy lights, hot chocolate, snow, poinsettias and roving carol singers. Most of all, the presents always come in huge boxes that are beautifully, professionally wrapped and finished off with a huge bow.
Now, none of these things are wrong in themselves (even though they may not necessarily match up to the Christmas we all experience) but the presents concern me. Because some of the nicest presents I have ever received have been extremely badly wrapped – when my husband hasn’t been quick enough to get my children or sister to do it for him, or when parents of school children have let their child do it all themselves. And, conversely, some of the most beautifully-presented gifts can be a disappointment. However, like many things in life, we have a tendency to look on the outside and judge things by how they appear.
I recently went to a training session at which I only really knew one person well. There were others there that I had met before but our paths had not really crossed much, and others who I had seen around but never really thought we would have much in common. I could have just chatted to my friend but I determined that I was going to make a real effort to talk to people with whom I didn’t usually spend time and, as I did, I began to have some really interesting conversations. I found things we had in common, I discovered that they had some of the same ideas and hang ups that I had, and I made some connections that were quite surprising to me.
And it made me think how often we judge people from the outside, usually without meaning to, but we get into our head the kind of person they are or subconsciously make a judgement about whether we would get on well or have an interesting conversation. We can do this with people who seem old-fashioned, thinking that they will be less interesting, or with people who are beautiful or attractive, thinking either they will be fascinating and exciting, or maybe arrogant as their outside appeal must surely make them too confident.
The older I get and the more I push myself to talk to people I would not naturally be drawn to, I am reminded again and again that we should take care not to make assumptions and should take the time to befriend those around us and really get to know people. We do not know the path they are walking, the experiences they have lived through or their hopes and dreams until we make time for these conversations. The most outwardly together people are often the most insecure, and the most ordinary-looking people have often led the most extraordinary lives. The outward package can, just like those beautifully-wrapped Christmas presents, completely belie the treasure within.
At this time of year we are reminded that the son of God did not arrive with a fanfare, wearing beautiful robes and sleeping in a sumptuous bed covered with fine linens, but quietly (apart from the odd angel or two) wrapped in swaddling bands and laid in an animal’s feeding trough. He didn’t go to the best party and talk to the most beautifully-dressed people, but to a draughty stable born to ordinary people like Mary and Joseph who had humble and obedient hearts. My guess would be that when Jesus went into any room full of people, he would sit with the despondent, talk to the lonely and spend time with the least outwardly-together people that were there.
So let’s enjoy the beauty and appeal of Christmas, cheesy films included, but also remember that there is so much beauty to be discovered in the ordinary. Let’s take time to talk to those that we would not usually spend time with; the kid at school who doesn’t seem to have many friends, the mum in the playground who stands slightly apart waiting for her child, the work colleague who eats lunch alone or the elderly neighbour to whom a trip to buy milk might be the only interaction they have in a day. Let’s expect the unexpected and invest time and effort in drawing out the hidden gems in those around us and not be distracted by the outward packaging. Who knows what real and lasting treasure we will find this Christmas?
Written by Ros Satchell