Have you managed to deal with the gifts you received at Christmas? No doubt, some of them will be taken into 2017 as treasures to be kept, others as items to be enjoyed and then forgotten about, and some possibly to be exchanged for items much more to your liking – or size!
One present that I will certainly be keeping and using often is my Yorkshire Passport. More correctly, this is a copy of the small book God’s Own Country - Republic of Yorkshire: Passport. It is an essential refence volume that no self-respecting Yorkshire home should be without, and was given to me by a thoughtful fellow member of Ripon Rotary Club.
It is delightful, and contains nearly fifty pages of regional facts and wisdom, including a Yorkshire citizenship test. The Yorkshire-English Phrasebook section provides a number of helpful translations. For example, “This item is somewhat overpriced,” in Yorkshire is “’ow much?!”.
It has to be admitted, though, that this publication is not without its shortcomings and in need for some editing. For example, this “Passport” features the ten “best views of Yorkshire”, as voted by 1,100 Yorkshire folk through The Dalesman.
What it failed to mention, however, is that the other five million inhabitants of Yorkshire might well regard the view of Ripon Cathedral from Studley Royal as the finest prospect in ‘God’s own country’!
It was also surprising that the section entitled “Yorkshire Almanac”, giving helpful details about a wide range of distinctively Yorkshire events, did not mention the New Year ceremonies in Ripon.
Everyone is welcome to join the vast crowds that gather for a short watchnight service in Ripon Cathedral at 11.15pm on New Year’s Eve, before taking part in the candle-lit procession to the Market Place. Once there, a blessing is pronounced by the Bishop or myself from the town hall balcony just before the old year closes and the spectacular firework display celebrates the arrival of New Year.
This Ripon tradition, taking place at the heart of the Harrogate District, and supported by the Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire, mayors of the district and people from across the whole region, is a wonderful balance of joyful celebration and meaningful ceremony.
New Year is a time when we all naturally reflect on the twelve months that we have just lived, with all their delights and disappointments, with all their joy and sadness.
For many people in this region, the floods of last Christmas created unwelcome difficulty and disruption as 2016 began. This has been a year of almost unprecedented surprise on the political stages of this nation and the wider world. And as we reflect on the news in the closing days of December, we register that there is much that is lamentable.
Sadly, there is continued unrest and mindless killing in Syria, not least Aleppo, and relative instability in the wider Middle East. The lorry attack on the Berlin market was appalling.
Here in the UK there is nervous frustration stemming from a lack of clarity about our future relationship with the rest of Europe. There is concern about social integration that leads to calls for the swearing of oaths to keep so-called British values. And stresses within our prisons and hospitals, resulting partly from the need to watch the pennies of beleaguered public finances, are becoming far too evident.
And all of this is over and above whatever might be going on in the lives of our families and friends.
At New Year, then, we look back. And we also look forward to the future in hope, despite all its uncertainties.
It is probably the inevitability of uncertainty that results in people valuing the assurance of God’s blessing as one year gives way to another. We need the reassurance that the one whose birth at Bethlehem we have just celebrated will remain with us in the future.
We do have to be prepared to meet God half way, though. How can we expect the blessings that will support and guide us if we all-too-readily pack away the central gift of Christmas - Christ himself – with the decorations early in the New Year?
A similar challenge faces us as we attempt to integrate people into our national culture, strengthening the unity and cohesion of our society. Not every county has the advantage of the Yorkshire Passport!
And though that is a joke, there is some truth in it. We are blessed with a strong regional identity and some customs and traditions that help to unite old-timers and newcomers.
A nation that seeks the blessing of unity by demanding allegiance to certain values - such as democracy, equality, belief in freedom of speech, freedom of religious expression, freedom from abuse (all of which are desirable) - needs to acknowledge that true, lasting, world-uniting, fully-inclusive values cannot be determined by short-term expediency and democratic instinct.
The message of Christmas is a gift for all people and well worth taking into 2017. The values that have served this country well for centuries, leading to tolerance of cultural and religious differences and a willingness to work for the peace and well-being of the whole world, have in large-measure stemmed from the belief that the God of all people is always as he revealed himself to be in Jesus Christ.