Weekly Reflection – Presents at Christmas

20 December 2023

Some of you may be familiar with the tradition of Secret Santa. A group of people, who normally know one another pretty well, all put their names into a pot. Everyone draws a name at random and buys a present for the person whose name they have drawn. There’s usually a price cap, so there’s no great disparity between the value of the presents.

Our wonderful team here at the Cathedral had a Secret Santa gift exchange at our December staff breakfast. We opened our gifts together, and mine was a book of postcards by the Russian artist Marc Chagal. I immediately recalled a recent conversation I had had with some colleagues about Chagal, one of my favourite artists. Although he was Jewish, he designed stained glass windows for cathedrals and churches across Europe, including in the UK. I was touched that the person who had bought me this gift had obviously remembered the conversation and had carefully selected their present accordingly. I can’t remember which of my colleagues was involved in the conversation – so my Santa remains secret!

Of course, the tradition of gift-giving at Christmas is longstanding. One of the things that the general population objected to most in the short-lived English Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell was the Puritans’ virtual abolition of Christmas celebrations. Which is odd, given that the Puritans were devout Christians whose faith centred on God’s great gift – a gift whose significance is brought alive by a well-known verse from St John’s Gospel which is inscribed (in Latin) under our beautiful rood beam in Wakefield Cathedral: God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. Like my Secret Santa gift, God’s gift of his son was carefully chosen; unlike my gift, Jesus is no secret, he’s not just for Christmas and he’s a gift for the whole of humanity.

A Happy Christmas to you all,

Dean Simon

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Wakefield Cathedral

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