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Love and Light

National Christmas Celebrations 2014

Sunday the 14th December was the day for our much anticipated National Christmas Celebrations 2014. Along with many members of Sai family from Region 1, I too travelled the 120 miles by Coach – 3 Coaches in all christened Sathya, Dharma, Shanti – to the very select venue of Cheltenham Ladies College in Gloucestershire. Having started on our journey very early on a wintry morning, we arrived to a very welcoming breakfast of homemade biscuits, cake, tea, coffee and soft drinks- all ready and so lovingly served to us by the happy Sevadal Volunteers of the day. Many of the wonderful youth were there too, gently guiding us around the venue and helping us deposit the bags of Food that each of us had brought along for the Christmas Food Bank Seva.

We then proceeded to the beautiful Princess Hall where the celebrations were to be held. The hall is all oak panelled, and above the impressive Stage, there is a magnificent frieze depicting the 12 Virtues of Woman. On either side of it, up in the alcoves, were Christmas Trees with Christmas Lights twinkling on them. On the right hand side of the stage, stood a very large picture of Lord Jesus Christ, smiling and talking with the children. And on the left was the same size picture of Swami, our beloved Lord, smiling and dressed in his white robe. In the centre was the lovely Manger, also in white, as were the Palm trees. The entire setting was just beautiful and had a very peaceful and calming effect on us all.

The programme, based on the theme ‘Be like children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven’, started with a soulful Taize Chant sung by the Anahata group. Our National Chairperson, Dr. Kiran Patel, then gave the Welcome speech and told us how the Ladies College authorities, having witnessed the spirit of our celebrations in previous years, had invited us to use the venue again this year! He then invited Reverend Katie McClure, the chaplain of this prestigious college, to conduct the Christmas Service. And she did this with great elan, grace and poise.

The Service started with the traditional Christmas Carol ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, led by a 50-member Choir who were accompanied by various musicians on violins, cello, guitar and piano. And the rest of the 350 of us in the hall joined in the singing with great joy and devotion in our hearts. As our singing resonated across the venue and beyond, Reverend McClure led a procession of children. The girls were dressed in white satin dresses with halos around their heads and the boys in regal robes, each one carrying a ‘Christingle’. The Shepherds, the three Wise Men, and the animals- they were all there along with the Reverend, and the Mayor of Cheltenham amongst others. And …..this was only the start of a very emotional and spiritually uplifting day! The Programme continued and 10 more Carols were sung, alternated in between by Readings from the Holy Bible and read by different people who had assembled from across the country, representing the 8 different Regions of our Organisation. One of the carols was ‘Little Drummer Boy’ led by the children; I
and the lady sitting next to me tried to sing this, but the tears that welled up in our eyes prevented us as it was so moving!

Rev. McClure then delivered the Christmas Sermon from the stage. She expressed her happiness for being with all of us and spoke about how Christmas is a time of Love and Giving. But the most important thing to remind oneself on this holy occasion, she said in her sermon, was to ‘give’ or offer oneself to the Lord! This beautiful message she conveyed in a powerful yet poignant way, when she narrated a story through the enactment of a play on Stage, titled ‘Mikhaila the Mouse’, by our very own SSE children from Region 7.

It was about a little mouse, Mikhaila, who got to know about the birth of Baby Jesus in Bethlehem from her friend, a wise old owl. Mikhaila is eager to see the Baby, and braving many hardships along the way, she finally reaches the Manger. Only to find that unlike others- the sheep, cows, hens and the cats who carried presents for the Baby and therefore allowed entry into the Manger- she didn’t carry any presents and hence was refused entry despite her entreaties. However she saw a small hole up on the side of the Manger and scrambled up, but as she pushed her way in through the hole, she got stuck. She decided to stay in that position, unmindful of the discomfort, because she could see the Baby finally! Mother Mary saw her there, and nudged Joseph too, and they both smiled at her, as Mikhaila was helping block a cold draught that had been blowing in on the Baby that night, through that hole high in the wall which Joseph couldn’t reach. When Mikhaila returned home, the Owl asked her what she had given the Baby and she replied, “ I gave him me, for as long as he needed me.” And that was the Message of the story which the children relayed to all of us through the Play. The little ones performed so well, and deservedly received a rapturous applause when the Revered announced that she had asked them only shortly beforehand.

The Lord Mayor addressed the gathering, and again said how happy he was to be present. Although Christmas is a time of giving, he said he knows that our Sathya Sai Organisation gives 365 days of the year, thus everyday is a Christmas for us!

Our Guest Speaker for the day, brother George Bebedelis from Greece, was next and he told us a little about his life and his meetings with Swami and a story about him, Swami and Swami’s students that made us all laugh. He shared how Swami liked to talk to him about the Great Philosophers, in particular Socrates. He finished the morning talk on the topic ‘Love is the Source’ by highlighting the similarities in the teachings of Jesus, Swami and Socrates. He spoke again in the afternoon on the topic ‘Happiness is Union with God’ and showed us slides of the ruins in Delphi where
the Oracle, a Prophet, once lived and spoke for the God Apollo. When these ruins were excavated, they found the maxim that Socrates had pronounced and preached, ‘Know Thyself’, etched above the door. He then showed some examples of how Swami and his teachings of Love and those of Socrates are the same. He said how he
likes to incorporate some of Swami’s sayings when he teaches his students, as they carry a unifying and universal message. Brother George’s deep dedication, study, understanding and experience shone through in the joy and peace that he conveyed through his talks and interaction on the day.

The morning session closed with a scintillating musical performance on Strings by the ‘King Street Quartet’. The group played expertly on familiar tunes and hymns that warmed all our hearts. It was now time for lunch, and what a lunch it was! Nut Roast, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, carrots, roast parsnips- all served piping hot with gravy and cranberry sauce, followed by homemade mince pies and cream, and bottles of apple and pear juice on the tables. It truly was a traditional feast that was enjoyed by all.

The afternoon commenced with the SSE children from Merton Sai Centre performing the Nativity and again they were all there- the beautiful angels, the donkeys and the ass, the sheep, Mother Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus. Titled ‘The Christmas Secret’, they performed with great energy and coordination, with interludes of a very lively pop version of Jingle Bells!

After the Guest Speaker’s talk, SSE children from Brixton Sai Centre performed a Play based on human values, titled ‘The Loyal Builder’. Dressed in dungarees and hard hats, and holding their tools, they looked their parts which they performed so well. It was about a builder called Simon who lived in a very cold old house with his aged father, who said in a very cockney accent, that he wished the boiler was working as the cold wasn’t doing his cough any good. Simon was short of money, but was conscientious and morally upright at work and always ready to help his colleagues. Simon’s boss, suddenly one day, gave him a job to refurbish an old house, but stipulated that he had to do it all alone and complete the project by a certain date. Simon faces many challenges, including self doubt, that he overcomes by remembering his dad’s advice, “whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance”. Well, he did complete the project on time and when his boss came along, he acknowledged Simon’s good job and proceeded to hand the keys of the house to Simon, saying, “ This house belonged to my late father. You are a good hard working man who looks after his family and I wanted it completed quickly so you and your father could move in before the winter sets in. If anyone deserves it, you do”. The children and the supporting teams received a standing ovation for both plays from all of us.

Our guests from two well known national charities, Refuge UK and County Community Project, were then handed over the gifts we had all brought along for the Refuge Children and the Food Banks. In their brief talks, the representatives from these charities spoke of the work they do in the communities for people in need, and
thanked us for our contributions on the day. They said how very much this is all appreciated by them and the receiving participants.

As the Programme drew to a close, we all sang the beautiful Carol ‘Silent Night’ with our hearts brimming with love. We then sang the Aarti for Swami with the same love, whilst it was offered by brother George. This was sung in English, and this was something that I had not heard before, and again it was quite beautiful and we all rose to our feet and clapped as usual.

The day finally did end…..but not before Father Christmas visited us! And yes, he made us laugh so much as he poked his head out from behind a Palm Tree, and then the Manger, and threw handfuls of sweets from his Man Bag. The shrieks from the children are something that I can still hear as he gave them all a present and made them laugh so much. We all left that wonderful emotional and spiritual day with a smile of happiness on our faces and I thank Swami from my heart for bringing me to share in such an Auspicious Warm Blissful and fun day!

PS: I have booked my place for next year already.

Jai Sai Ram.

Sandra Fletcher
Sathya Sai Centre of Bromley
Region 1, SSSSO UK