After the pudding and Queen’s speech, quite a few households up and down the country will be indulging in another Christmas tradition – the family game.
It’s an age-honoured custom that, on one day of the year, families and extended families gather together or with friends to take part in festive activities.
For some, this will include attending some form of carol service. For more, it will involve eating a wonderful roast dinner and filling up the corners with seasonal snacks and nibbles.
But what characterises Christmas Day more than other days of the year is the inexplicable urge to pit your wits against others. The ‘Christmas Games’ may not be as high-profile as the Winter Olympics, but they’re no less competitive, and playing them is just, well, expected.
Even TV’s period dramas where bewhiskered gentlemen partake in blind-man’s buff, to modern rom-coms where playing ‘consequences’ results in (supposedly) hilarious consequences, the Christmas games afternoon is part and parcel of the celebrations.
One of the most popular games is charades, an acting game in which one player acts out a word or phrase, often by pantomiming similar-sounding words, and other players guess the word or phrase.
The activity may be light-hearted fun, but the rationale behind the game – that we can communicate something without words – goes straight to the heart of who we are as humans – communicators.
Without words or gestures we would be unable to convey meaning to each other, unable to enjoy familial comfort, to be a community, to build, to write great works of literature, to establish governments.
It’s ironic then that we engage in charades, attempting to communicate with each other in fun, but are unable to communicate with each other for the rest of the year.
Christmas itself can be like a game of charades for many families, Christian and non-Christian. For one or two days a year, we try to put aside hostilities and hide hurts, fears and doubts while we ‘put a brave face on it’.
The very time when we come together is when we can feel as if we are caught up in a game of charades – trying to be merry when inside we’re hurting, wanting to reach out to someone or have someone reach out to us at a deeper level than just words.
The poet Ben Okri wrote: ‘It seems to me that our days are poisoned with too many words. Words said and not meant. Words said and meant. Words divorced from feeling. Wounding words. Words that conceal. Words that reduce. Dead words.
‘I think we need more of the wordless in our lives. We need more stillness, more of a sense of wonder, a feeling for the mystery of life. We need more love, more silence, more deep listening, more deep giving’ (Birds of heaven, 1996).
Okri’s assertion that we need more of a sense of wonder, stillness, love and listening is something we really need to consider this Christmas. Do we really listen to and love each other in our family and friendship group?
What about those who are not in our families or friendship groups – the outsiders, the ‘black sheep’ and unlovely? How can we communicate, with or without words?
Yet Okri’s poetic words talked of ‘more love, more deep giving’. What greater love has the world known than the greatest, deepest gift of all? That night, that holy night, more than 2,000 years ago, the Great Communicator gave his only Son, that whoever believes on him shall never perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
On that night, there were no games, no hidden communications. Openly, clearly, a heavenly chorus rang out, ‘Peace on earth, goodwill to men’ (Luke 2:14).
God himself broke through the silence and announced clearly and openly the most wonderful truth, beyond words: ‘the Word himself became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14).
This was not just a message for a few, but for all – for those who considered themselves to be God’s chosen people and for those who were still far from knowing about God.
Christ himself drew near to us, giving up his heavenly glory to be one of us, to understand our every fear, hidden pain and unspoken heartaches.
He gave his life for us that we who put our trust in him might be called sons of God. This was no charade, but something real, historic and wonderful. God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man.
So while we take our place at the family table this Christmas, let us also open our ears and hearts to hear the call of that Great Communicator, as he reveals the mystery of eternal life through the revelation of his Son Jesus Christ.