(This editorial first appeared in the December issue of the Anglican Journal.)
Christmas is upon us.
For some, it hasn’t come soon enough—that time of year when one can pause, cast aside the horrible months just past and celebrate the arrival of the child born for us.
For others, however, Christmas is not that time of year when “there’s plenty of cheer.” Our story Blue Christmas services offer comfort on the longest night (p. 9) looks into a ministry that addresses the reality that not everyone feels celebratory or upbeat for various reasons, including the loss of a loved one or a relationship, joblessness, depression, illness and poverty. The service, embraced by many denominations and open to all, provides a restful space for the weary and offers the message that we are not alone in our grief.
The weight of the world has been a heavy one to bear in 2017, what with the pileup of deadly climate and weather disasters, terrorist attacks, mass shootings, an escalating refugee crisis, threats of racism and fascism around the world.
But as The ‘saddest and yet the happiest Christmas’ (p. 8) reminds us, disasters—whether natural or manmade—are an unfortunate fact of life, but how we respond to them can make all the difference. One hundred years ago on December 6, 1917, a massive explosion levelled much of Halifax’s north end and affected parts of Dartmouth. The Halifax Explosion, the largest manmade blast before the advent of nuclear weapons, killed about 2,000 people (including 200 parishioners of St. Mark’s Anglican Church), injured 9,000 others and left an estimated 10,000 children homeless. The explosion occurred when two ships, one loaded with explosives for the French war effort, collided in Halifax Harbour.
“As Christmas approached, a cloud of melancholy hung over the city. Normal life, as Haligonians knew it, had ceased to exist,” writes Joyce Glasner in her book, Christmas in Atlantic Canada, from the Amazing Stories series. “The usual hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, concerts, sleigh rides, and skating parties had vanished. The festive lighting and window displays of years gone by were also non-existent. Almost every window in the area had been shattered in the explosion.”
A choice had to be made: succumb to despair, even anger, or dare to hope? On December 20, a group of the city’s merchants and residents hastily organized Santa Claus Limited, with a mandate “to collect and distribute ‘Christmas cheer’” to the city’s homeless children, writes Glasner. Appeals for donations were made in The Halifax Herald, Christmas trees quickly put up in shelters and hospitals, and doctors asked to dress up as Santa. “On December 25, the shelters all served Christmas dinner to their patrons, and the relief committee distributed food to victims who weren’t staying in shelters. That day, Santa visited each and every shelter and hospital to distribute gifts to the children,” Glasner writes. There was, in the end, an outpouring of generosity from folks in Canada, the U.S. and around the world, that made it “the saddest and yet the happiest Christmas.”
Many of us will recognize elements in that story being replicated whenever calamities strike around the world today—acts of love and kindness emerge in the wake of devastation, overcoming fear, restoring hope and bringing light in the darkest moments. Problems don’t magically disappear, but we receive comfort and strength in knowing that we are not alone.
As we are reminded each Christmas, the birth of Jesus is the arrival of God’s love and peace in the world.
From all of us at the Anglican Journal, Merry Christmas.