You’re allowed to groan at the silly title, but hear me out...
Where do I start? Since I mentioned the advent wreath, my more observant readers may have deduced that I go to church regularly and, like the majority of people in the rural area of Ireland where I live, I’m a member of the Catholic Church.
The reason why I’m Catholic, much like a lot of people I know, is because it’s the way I was brought up. I remember having to answer questions for a form once, and for some reason I was asked to give my religion, so I said “Christian.” There was a pause, a funny look, and then we moved on. I asked my mum about it later, and she explained that most people would specify “Catholic” or “Church of Ireland” or “Methodist” ...something along those lines. I had been surprised enough at the question in the first place, and so was even more baffled by the detail required.
Personally, I don’t think any two people have exactly the same religious beliefs—I’m not even sure I’m old enough to know what mine are just yet (though that doesn’t stop people trying to put it into words for me)!
For that reason, it’s probably going to be hard for anyone to find a denomination, if any, to suit them completely. I kind of see faith as something separate entirely. I have my own idea of God—who I have decided to believe in—but I’ve never categorised myself as anything. However I really do like being part of a Church, too. It’s really a kind of community to be involved in and I think that even if you’re not religious, that’s something really special. When I went in to have my operation, loads of my friends and family told me that they were praying for me and a priest agreed to dedicate a mass to my operation being successful. I don’t know if I believe that this helped in any way, but that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what a person believes themselves, there’s something nice about people sharing their faith and using it to help you.
I strongly believe in believing in something. Whether you believe in God, or gods, or fairies or elves or magic, or even just have the vague idea that, as my mum so aptly described it, “there is more to this than this”... you should always believe in something. Family, friends, yourself. You just need a little faith.
This time of the year holds huge significance for many different Churches. All the Christian ones celebrate Christmas (see, you learn something new every day on this blog...), Jewish people celebrated Hanukkah the other week, and long ago the Romans celebrated Saturnalia and Germanic Pagans celebrated Yule—perhaps some people still do... I would love that so much. There must be something about the darkest time of the year that makes us want to reflect on what we choose to have faith in, and there’s something really nice about that.
So whether you’ll be spending your Christmas Eve at midnight mass (which nowadays is held at about 7pm) or sitting at home among family or friends, or doing something else entirely, I hope that you’ll take a minute to think about your faith if you have it, or what makes you get through the day. Religion, especially organised religion, gets a lot of bad press, and I’ll be the first to say that some of it is deserved, but I’m still happy to call myself a Christian. There’s a lot of debate about the Christmas story, but this much I think is true: two thousand years ago a special person was born who went around telling everyone to love each other, and leading by example... even when it meant he had to die.
I don’t care what you or I believe—there’s something very touching about that.
I've taken a pictures from my church so that those of you with different or no faith can see what it's like to celebrate Christmas in a Catholic church. I'd be really pleased to hear how you celebrate!
A "crib", model of the nativity scene. The baby Jesus model will be added on the day. In my house, the Magi usually wait outside till the sixth, but I guess the ones in the church got there early... by express camel, perhaps?