As I write, early on the morning of 27th December, I am looking out on flurries of snow falling - and just about settling - in Horsham. Sadly two days too late to give children a Christmas present of a (very small) snowman and two days and 36 miles too far south for anyone with money on it…. It is however (probably only very briefly) a "proper" Christmas scene.
Since St Augustine "converted" England (Horsham, surrounded as it was by dense forest, was one of the last pagan areas in the south to give up!) England has celebrated Christmas on 25th December. The date for Christmas Day had not actually been finalised though until, after much debate, it was decreed by the Roman Emperor Constantine (who was himself born in York) in 336.
The fact that 25th December is the date Christians celebrate the birth of Christ does not necessarily mean that was the date on which it happened… That has never stopped being the subject of academic discussion and ideas vary from March, to June, to September. However for the Romans the imaginary was what mattered, they believed the Winter solstice fell on 25th December - and what better date could they choose for the birth of the "light of the world" than the date from which the darkness of winter begins to ebb away. Over the last week and (for the Eastern Churches) on 7th January millions form part of the Christmas celebrations and what it means to them.
For many though this time of year - with its emphasis on family and the pressure to spend - can be immensely difficult. We are all grateful for those, professionally or as volunteers, who do so much for our community throughout the year but particularly at Christmas, when they may themselves have to be away from family and friends. For the volunteers, engaged in so many worthwhile projects, whether they are inspired by any particular faith or indeed none at all - other than a sense of wishing to help others less fortunate at a time when loneliness or desperation can be at its most acute - it is an effort that touches so many lives.
Photo caption: Horsham Sorting Office in the final rush before Christmas and Sharon wearing a rosette presented to her by a grateful customer “the best postie in the world!”