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Posted on 27th December, 2012

The meaning of



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Chris Mounteney, Operations Manager of 'UK Homes 4 Heroes', prepares hot food, in a specially-equipped van, for 2 Northampton homeless.I'm not a religious person. I never have been, and I can't see that I ever will be. So for me, Christmas doesn't hold the significance it does for those of religious faith. Equally though, for as long as I can remember, Christmas has had little appeal along the lines of festive merry-making, presents, and over-indulgent eating. As far as I'm concerned for instance, the right time to obtain goods and services is when you want or need them: it's not at some point in the year that has been conveniently hi-jacked by retailers for that one purpose, but ignored by the vast majority for any other message contained within the Christmas story.


In fact, I find it absolutely ridiculous that a country supposedly in economic meltdown, can waste approx 2.3 billion pounds on surprise presents that are unwanted by the recipients. Or, that we can spend ludicrous amounts of money on mountains of food, only to throw away approx 40% as uneaten. Or, on a smaller scale that I can relate to personally, that in mid-December we (not me!) are willing to pay £14.99 for a two-course pub 'meal', that was already grossly over-priced in late November at £9.99. Those things are sinful and obscene in my opinion.


For me, Christmas has mainly been a chance to be away from work, at home with family for an extra couple of days, and, to sample the delights of alcohol a bit more often. Which is partly why, I suppose, I've been regarded as a scrooge and a miserable old git. Not that I give a damn I should say, because it's not the miserable old gits like me that should be asking questions about their attitudes to Christmas: it's those who allow themselves to be controlled by the rampant materialistic and consumerist interpretation of what is meant to be a more meantingful event.


All this does not mean I lack faith, as faith manifests itself in many ways, not just religious. I do have faith, but my faith is in humanity. (Or, in some of humanity: it's difficult to feel anything positive for the perpetrators of many appalling events going on in the world). Of those I do have faith in, I was in the company of plenty of them through the weekend that immediately preceded Christmas day itself.


Firstly, over the Friday night / Saturday morning, I was out taking pics with one of the Northampton reachout teams that was distributing food, drink and clothing to the town's homeless. What some people may find an eye-opener, and plenty will conveniently ignore, is that many of what they refer to as these 'scroungers' and 'illegal immigrants' would have been lauded 6 or 12 months earlier as 'heroes' of the nation. That's because many of them are former service personnel, who've been discharged into civilian life after finishing their time, but found it impossible to cope with its unstructured and uncontrolled ways. So big a problem it is in fact, that a charity called 'UK Homes 4 Heroes' ( has sprung up to help these homeless people, and is expanding at a rapid rate. Its Operations Manager, Chris Mounteney, has a full-time Territorial Army job, but also spends whatever 'free' time he has to run the organisation. Amazingly, he was willing and able to find time away from those demanding tasks to lead our team on this specific night, but targetting all homeless people in this case. On this occasion, it was a bit different to my previous outreach ventures, because rather than trawling only the main central streets, we headed out a short distance to locations where the homeless actually bed down: tents in a field, a derelict house, and railway arches. Can you imagine spending your Christmas in such surroundings?


On Sunday lunchtime, I was taking photos again at 'Street Church', the regular weekly event for the homeless held in the Salvation Army building just west of the town centre. Obviously, being just before Christmas, it was a bit more special on this day, with carols, readings, and a quiz, in addition to a huge meal. And that wasn't all either, because each person was handed a useful free gift when they left, to help them get through their day. It's great to be able to talk to these people for a minute or two: it's even better to see the looks on their faces as they receive their gifts, and realise that someone thinks and cares about them a little. What a contrast to those people who dismiss them as 'parasites', and refuse to look a bit deeper into the human tragedies that have brought them to this situation.


Anyway, I have to admit that my 2 weekend experiences have changed my view of Christmas, by giving it more meaning. Still not religious meaning I must say, but they've clarified for me that Christmas is one of a number of occasions when it is good to give presents. In other respects however, the weekend has confirmed my original opinions: to have real meaning, give what is needed, and to whom it's needed.


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