Christmas. Not long to go now, how are your preps going? It all seems to start earlier and earlier each year, doesn’t it?
Christmas is for many a time to spend with family, but for many folk it can be a very difficult period when that can’t happen for a whole lot of reasons. Whilst in the Navy I spent quite a few Christmasses away from home … the first one was way back and we were down in the Falkland Islands. We were at anchor and I remember it was freezing cold, and my mate had to go up the main mast on Christmas morning to fix a radar aerial. So, in the true caring spirit of Christmas, the entire mess (50 odd of us) wanted him to share in the celebrations, so we all came out onto the Flight Deck, pints in hand and raised our glasses to him working away … thankfully his response was carried away by the wind. Another memorable Christmas away we were alongside in Dubai, and most of us had taken our presents from family with us when we deployed in October. I opened mine in the morning then decided to go for a run (as you do when alongside in Dubai on Christmas day). In one box from my wife I had noticed a kit-kat … now, we hadn’t seen them on board for a while … so after my run I settled down to a nice cuppa and a kit -kat … took the wrapper off and it was made of rubber … (as Helen said, do you really think I would have sent you a chocolate bar when its so hot in the Gulf?).

But the most vivid memory of a Christmas away has to be Christmas at the end of 1994. The Bosnian crisis was at its height really, and we were deployed as part of the NATO forces, spending many hours sat 12 miles off the coast enforcing the no fly zones and looking out for small boats etc carrying arms and fighters. We spent a lot of time at Defence watches (heightened readiness) and went to action stations on several occasions. But we had 3 days standoff over Christmas. There was a simple choice, go to anchor in a safe area nearby for 72 hours or sail full speed up the Adriatic and go alongside in Trieste for 24 hours. We did the latter. The thought process being at least we can get into a bar, have a meal ashore and make the all important phone calls home (this was before mobiles and satellite phones!). So off we went.

When we arrived in Trieste it was shut. Completely. Not a bar or restaurant was open. Anywhere. And there were two public phone boxes in the dockyard. Great. So, there were huge queues for the phones, BUT everyone did manage to call home at some point during the visit. What it did do was make us all very aware that actually all we really wanted to do was be in touch with family and friends, and if that meant queuing with 280 other guys for ten minutes on the phone it was worth it! Of course we then had to make our own entertainment, had a carol service, a few beers on board etc etc. Some may have thought we would have been better off going to anchor and having more ‘down time’ … but those phone calls were a real morale boost at that time of year. (Although a pizza in a nice little bar would have been a lovely bonus).

What is important about Christmas to you? What are you looking forward to? Beer? Wine? Presents? Re runs of “It’s a wonderful life’? Or is it about those closest to you? For me, as a Christian, yes it is about family and friends (although this year most of our family will be elsewhere) (and the odd beer) but its also about the ‘traditional’ reason for Christmas … to remember the story of Jesus coming to earth for us. Now, don’t get me wrong I love the story of angels, sheep, donkeys, kings and shepherds but actually if we are not careful that can distract us from the central truth of Christmas, which is this … God sent his son to sort us out! As humankind we had moved so far away from Gods plan for us that there was only one option left … Jesus had to come and die in our place so that we could be made right with God. That process started at Christmas, and ended at Easter about 33 years later when Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead.

So this year in amongst everything else that is going on, maybe spend some time focussing on family and friends (even if it is just a 10 minute phone call or text to the family member you haven’t spoken to for years). Also why not have a think about how it all started in the first place … (Clues in the name … CHRIST mas). Have a look at what is going on in Church .. and maybe, just maybe pause and reflect on the bigger picture!

Image Credit: Annie Spratt