For Christians around the world, this is a special time of anticipation, hope and celebration: an opportunity to reflect on the events of the year and to look forward to spending time (a lot or a little!) with family and friends. Even for those struggling with their faith, of another faith or disillusioned altogether with religion, the season of good will to all men (and women!) is unstoppable in its euphoria and obliges even the meanest, most grumpy soul to suspend disbelief and to join in with the celebrations.
For me, it begins with the sight of the illuminated Christmas tree, the writing of Christmas cards (a British invention) and the chance to sing (and hear) Christmas carols.
For 11 months of the year, I have no desire to sing carols but as soon as the lights on the tree are switched on, I just want to burst into song:
Wie treu sind deine Blaetter./
And, it isn't just because I've been drinking too much Gluehwein!
Our traditions, values and customs ground us as human beings and, despite the march of progress, carols continue to provide comfort and joy in our lives. Many of the carols we sing (or hum!) at this time of year are not only centuries old but recognisable throughout Europe in all the European languages.
As 2013, the EU Year of the Citizen, draws to a close and we stand at the threshold of 2014, the year commemorating the centenary commencement of the First World War, it's worth remembering that, on hearing the tune and words of 'Silent Night' ('Stille Nacht'), those brave and frightened soldiers stuck in No Man's Land in the trenches of the Western Front embraced and kissed each other and recognised their shared humanity. It is a carol that will always have a special significance for many, both young and old.
For me, the real magic of Christmas begins on Christmas Eve with the spectacular carol concert from KIng's College, Cambridge and for those who can't make it in person, thank God for the technical wizardry of the BBC World Service bringing joy to the world into every home.
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