Christmas video 25: Christmas Starts with a Baby’s Giggle

The constant onslaught of Christmas advertising from October onwards can start to wear a little thin as we enter December. Something inside us knows that however lovely the advert featuring a snowman giving a gift to a unicorn is – or whatever this years iteration is – it’s not really what Christmas is all about.

Instead, here is a concise and creative away of sharing the crux of the Christmas message: two parents, one baby and a whole lot of love.

Christmas Video 24: Nativity on the Overground

Accompanied by an indie-folk version of ‘In the bleak midwinter’, the traditional tale of the nativity is shown juxtaposed against the urban background of South-East London.

All Saints Peckham, a church in Southeast London, took to the iconic London Overground to stage this fun and experimental video.  Part flashmob, part timelapse, part street theatre, the goal was to retell the Nativity story with London as our backdrop.

Filmed (remarkably) in only one take on a fairly cold Saturday morning.

Christmas video 21: Mary’s Song

Spoken Truth and the Bible Society have partnered together to tell the story of Mary’s journey to motherhood in a 21st century setting.  Mary’s Song is a spoken word poem and original song – enjoy!

I’ve used it with a couple of groups of non-Christian young people who I work with who really enjoyed exploring the themes from it.  Download the videos or the sheet music for free from here.

Christmas video 18: Shepherds, Wise Men and baby Jesus spoken word

Miriam Swaffield wrote these spoken word videos about the shepherds, the wise men and baby Jesus. They are brilliant, we’ve used them with our 11-14 year olds who’ve loved them.

Fusion have recorded them and made them available for FREE download here – you might want to use them in your services or youth events you’ve got planned.

Christmas all-age and youth talks

Here’s some of my favourite Christmas and Christingle talks I have done over the years:

Bishop of London on the challenges facing young people

The Bishop of London, The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullally DBE, spoke eloquently in the House of Lords last week on the challenges facing young people:

It has been said that young people are our future. They are not – they are our present.  They hold the potential to reimagine the world and see possibilities not obstacles. They are a transformative presence in our present and reshape theirs and our future.

But life is complex for them – the high household income and home ownership rates that were a feature of the 20th century have failed to materialize for younger generations so far in the 21st. Yet, what I recognise more than anything, are the concerns over identity and belonging.

In October BBC Radio 4 announced the results of The Loneliness Experiment, a nationwide survey conducted by BBC Radio 4’s “All In The Mind” in collaboration with the Wellcome Collection.

The survey results indicated that 16-24 year olds experience loneliness more often and more intensely than any other age group. 40% of respondents aged 16-24 reported feeling lonely often or very often, while only 27% of people aged over 75 said the same.

The young are disproportionately affected by violent crime. This is even truer of those from a Black and minority ethnic or disadvantaged backgrounds.

Last month 250 churches across London gathered with youth workers, our schools, the police and young people to ask what we can do together. As part of their place in the local community, churches made a commitment to work in partnership with other organisations to seek to build on the existing work of our schools, after school clubs and youth projects to make their communities’ places where young people can find their identity, feel they belong and are safe.

One of the greatest challenges is how do we fund, recruit and retain good youth workers?  People who will remain in the community as young people grow up.  Role models are highly important for us psychologically, they help to guide us through life during our development and teach us to make important decisions that affect the outcome of our lives.

I also know from my previous life as a nurse that the only way to tackle these problems is through a whole-system approach, which I understand is now the consensus view.  Funding is central to this, and I welcome the £250 million allocated by the Mayor of London to establish a Violence Reduction Unit.  But, as the Commission on Youth Violence has spoken of, funding is often given in silos, with youth clubs regularly competing against one another for narrow funding streams.  I understand that the Commission’s final report is forthcoming, and I look forward to reading its findings.

I would like to pay particular testament to the vital youth work which is happening in places of worship and community halls across the country. In part of my own Diocese, in the London Borough of Camden, where according to the End Child Poverty coalition, 40% of children live in poverty, St Mary’s Primrose Hill’s youth workers mentor more than 20 young people a week, and undertake multiple prison visits a month.  The likes of St Mary’s are working hard to give our young people the hope that they deserve.

One of the wonderful characteristic of London is its diversity; it is multi faith and multi-racial yet at the same time we have seen a growth in people feeling marginalized – but I believe that we have more in common than divides us.

I wish to end my remarks today by reminding noble Lords that there is reason to be hopeful. Earlier this year I attended a youth Iftar – an opportunity for young people from a range of religions to celebrate that diversity, and to discover new things about each other.  Our conversations planted seeds which will build community bonds and friendships.  It also helped us to learn to value each other, to help build the peaceful and just society that all our religions seek. I reflected that this type of grand vision begins by taking such simple steps towards each other – but sometime we need to help each other to do it.

I am grateful that one of the most influential Bishop’s has taken time to share about the challenges young people face, and some of the brilliant work youth workers in the church do.

Christmas talk: Chocolate Brussels Sprouts

This is my favourite Christmas talk – Chocolate Sprouts – I’ve used this in assemblies, carol services, across the age ranges.

Preparation

  • Boil the Brussels Sprouts (make sure they’re not too soft) and stick them in the fridge overnight.
  • Next morning, melt the chocolate and dip the sprouts in so that they look like truffles.  Let them set on a baking tray, then put them in small cake cases and sprinkle them with cocoa powder.

Talk

At the start of the talk, announce that you love Christmas so much, that you want to share it with everybody, and that what you have with you is something that will always remind them of Christmas day – delicious truffles!

Ask for a couple of volunteers to see if they can emulate Christmas day, by eating as many truffles as they can in 1 minute.  Build up the expectation and emphasise the need for speed in the challenge.

Once the young people start eating the ‘truffles’, they’ll realise that there’s something not quite right and their facial expressions will change from ones of sheer delight, to ones of outright disgust a they discover the sprouts. (You may want to have a plastic bag handy at this point!)

OK, so it’s a bit revolting, but here’s the point.

Ask the young people who loves chocolate, and also, who loves sprouts.

Say that Christmas, for most of us is a time of celebration, indulgence and happiness.  We love the ‘niceness’ of the Christmas season. It’s a bit like chocolate!

Go on to say that for many people, Christmas is not an easy time. For some it’s a time of loneliness, homelessness and struggle. For many people, Christmas is like our experience of sprouts – something to struggle through.

You could mention the first Christmas as an example. Mary was blessed with the news that she was to be the mother of God’s son, but probably struggled with knowing that her life could be in danger because of her pregnancy.  A classic Eastenders storyline!

Challenge the young people to consider how they spend Christmas – to be grateful for the Christmas they have, and to be mindful of those who will struggle through Christmas.

Prayer

May our lives and our prayers be like lights shining in dark places.  And may the blessing of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – fill our hearts and homes with light this Christmas and in the new year to come.  Amen.

What children want for Christmas: a Dad

When it comes to Christmas, it might be safe to assume children will ask Santa for an extensive list of toys, games and treats.  But a survery of their typical lists for Father Christmas has shown many have more serious concerns, requesting “a dad” instead.

A study of 2,000 British parents found most children will put a new baby brother or sister at the top of their Christmas list, closely followed by a request for a real-life reindeer.

A “pet horse” was the third most popular choice, with a “car” making a bizarre entry at number four.  But despite their material requests, the tenth most popular Christmas wish on the list was a “Dad”.

The survey, of consumers at Westfield London and Westfield Stratford City, found children aged three to 12 years also wanted a dog, chocolate and a stick of rock.  Traditional hopes for a white Christmas were represented by a wish for “snow” in ninth place, with sensible youngsters also requesting a “house”.

Of the top 50 festive requests, 17 related to pets and animals, with some imaginative children hoping for a donkey, chicken and elephant.

iPhones and iPads also appeared on the list, with some quirky children asking for the moon, a time machine, a pond cover and beetroot.

A request for a “mum” reached number 23 on the list.