The reason this annual celebration held very little importance in recent years was the fact I was working and living in the French Alps. Employed as a snow ranger (childcare representative is the more formal title, but far less exciting), my job was to entertain and look after children, whose parents were out skiing. I therefore spent November through to May in a blissful winter wonderland, but time was very rarely my own, and any time not spent working was spent on the slopes. Although I adored being in the mountains, with the best weather, the best people and the best job, it is only with hindsight that I realise how much I sacrificed when exchanging Preston's pitiful streets for Belle Plagne's beautiful slopes around Christmastime.
Christmas in my house is always the same; my sister, brother and I meet in my parents' bedroom as early as allowed. My dad will go downstairs to check Father Christmas has been, light a fire and then call us downstairs. The anticipation of waiting for my dad's call always evokes a magical atmosphere regardless of how old we are. When the call finally comes, we rush downstairs and open the presents left in our stocking, before getting ready for Mass.
Christmas Day Mass is something I always took for granted. This year I know I'll really appreciate looking around the often empty pews and seeing the whole church bursting with familial love and joy, bringing a refreshed sense to what my faith really means, not only to me but also the community I belong to. This year has been a difficult one for my family unfortunately, with bereavement and illness. However, I have gained a new understanding of what's really important and Christmas is the perfect time to be reminded of this, regardless of what the year has thrown your way.
For me, I know that to be thanking God on Christmas Day for his continual guidance and protection, while sitting with my wonderful family, is something I will never again take for granted. For Christians, Christmastime is a celebration of the incarnation, and for this reason it is easy to feel God's presence in a strong way. All over the UK you will hear that Christmas is not about the tree, tinsel or turkey, but I'm not so sure. I believe the physical symbols of Christmas remind us of the incarnation. And so with every Christmas cracker that is pulled, God is with me. Every robin I see; God is with me. The smell of turkey wafting through the house; God is with me. The baubles on the tree; God is with me. In the present-giving, the beaming smiles, the inevitable arguments, the snow that falls, the twinkle of lights and the final notes of Hark the Herald, God is with me.
Christmas is the time we remember Jesus’ birth, a gift from God sent to save us, and whose name literally means ‘God is with us’. During this very special day we are lucky enough not only to believe his presence is with us, but also to really feel it.
Dates for the diary
• Life and Soul
11 December, 7–8pm at St Joseph and St Laurence, Bewley Drive, Kirkby, L32 7PZ
• Youth Alive Mass
16 December, 6.30pm at St Oswald's, Padgate Lane, Warrington, WA1 3LB