The Right Reverend Nick Baines spoke recently about the importance of place, and how – despite the growth in social media and virtual friendship networks – we remained rooted and shaped by the physical communities and environments in which we live.
I agree, and I have always thought that the idea of place and community is at its strongest at Christmas. It is a time of year when all roads lead to home and we look forward to enjoying the company of those closest to us. At Christmas, everything takes on a special significance, whether that’s putting up the decorations, shopping for food, or watching films together as a family. There is no other occasion like it.
Christmas offers us a time to relax and recharge. To reflect on the year that’s passed and prepare ourselves for the year to come. It’s not just about the tinsel, the mistletoe and the laughter. It’s a chance to take a breather from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and focus on what matters. And this Christmas break will be an especially well earned one for us all.
2018 has been another bitterly divisive year. For the first time in my life, our country feels fractured and disunited, with extremism and abuse on the rise and our shared sense of decency under constant assault. The challenges posed by austerity and post-Brexit uncertainty are huge and getting bigger. Overcoming these challenges and staying true to what we know to be decent will require all of the innate resilience, talent and generosity of spirit for which the people of our region are known. But I know it is a challenge to which we will rise.
I can say that with confidence because as the Mayor of the Sheffield City Region and the MP for Barnsley Central, I am in the uniquely privileged position of seeing exactly how much good work goes on in our communities. Whether it’s the volunteers at foodbanks and homeless shelters – who seek to give a bit comfort to those of us who have fallen on hard times – or the NHS and local government workers, police officers, firefighters, and Armed Forces personnel – who work to keep us safe, even when we are relaxing – there are so many examples of local people working for the common good. I am so grateful for all their efforts.
Around the world many countries are in a crisis far worse than ours. The Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, The Central African Republic, Burundi, Ethiopia, Palestine, Myanmar, Yemen, Nigeria and Venezuela are just some of the countries suffering from either conflict and humanitarian disasters. Populism is on the rise across the globe, and public discourse everywhere seems to be becoming more and more polarised and abusive, with the simple lies of ‘strongmen’ gaining more traction than the often complex truth told by democrats. It is easy to fear that the world is losing its way. As I look forward to spending time with my family in South Yorkshire, I will also be thinking of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe; the British mother preparing to go on hunger strike as she faces a third Christmas imprisoned in Iran. I hope she is released very soon.
So this Christmas, when you are sitting down for your turkey (or vegan nut cutlet alternative!), please spare a thought for the thousands of volunteers and public sector workers who have given up their Christmas Day, and for the millions of people less fortunate than ourselves. And as 2019 approaches, and you are considering what your New Year’s resolution will be, why not keep it simple and resolve to remember that we are far more united, and have far more in common with each other than that which divides us.
If all of us do that, whatever the outcome of Brexit, whatever else is thrown at us, next year will be better than the last. And that should be top of everyone’s Christmas list.