First and foremost, Merry Christmas to everyone reading this edition of the grand and glorious Oamaru Mail.
I hope you all have the Christmas you want with the people you love in the place of your choice and, if you’re a bloke, that the socks fit and the aftershave doesn’t smell like an aardvark’s armpit.
Some do! This I know, having scored a few pongers in my time. Obviously, Santa didn’t sniff them before heading down the chimney. Or he asked Rudolf to do the job. Perhaps that’s why the poor deer’s nose turned red!
Aftershave issues aside, Christmas always stirs strong feelings and vivid memories for me.
I grew up south of the tracks in Christchurch when coal was king and fired the steam trains that thundered through. Dad was the vicar at St Mary’s Addington and, for him, Christmas was one of the most important times of the year.
Which should come as no surprise, though it may do now.
A birth in Bethlehem is, after all, the reason we actually have a Christmas holiday. And that birth used to be an integral part of the celebration.
Recognised in school nativity plays, on the wireless, in newspapers, its story touched most people’s lives.
Mary and Joseph and the Three Wise Men shared the limelight with Mr Claus and his elves.
Needless to say, the vicar’s offspring took their place in the pews – along with the rest of the community. Service first, pud and presents later. That was the drill.
I can still see the interior of that old church, dark timber beams, dust motes drifting in the light filtered through stained glass windows. I can hear the carols. I can smell the Christmas lillies. These memories return every year, as time grows longer, becoming ever stronger.
But the Christmas I remember is a faded thing. As the churches have lost (or surrendered) their influence, so faith has left the festive season.
Christmas today is a strictly secular affair with scant public recognition of its religious roots. The establishment avoids them and the media simply ignores them.
Bad for business or just old hat, anything biblical is off the agenda. Those who run the fourth estate may argue that’s because fewer people say they’re Christian, to which the reply might be, maybe that’s because you’ve spent decades dismissing their beliefs.
Whatever the reasons, it saddens me that the spiritual dimension of Christmas has withered as it has. Because the nativity story literally marks the beginning of a faith which, whatever the woke folk may say, is a core piece of our heritage and the foundation of our morals, manners and laws. For that reason alone, it has a place on Christmas day.
To other matters, specifically next year, which will definitely be busy.
The Oamaru Harbour master plan will finally hit the streets. Plenty of people will want to have their two bob’s worth on that. And we’re launching a master plan for the airport, hich has really taken off (pun intended) lately and could create even more economic development.
Then there’s the most important of them all, namely the first draft of our new district plan. I hope everyone reads it when it comes out in the middle of the year. But I fear few will.
My hunch is most people think planning is bewildering bunkum, with an obscure, jargon-drenched language that shuts people out rather than invites them in.
Yet producing a good district plan is one of the most important things any council can do.
And a good plan is a clear plan.
Big ideas can be summed up in simple words. We need to speak in plain English, not plan English, to bring more people into the discussion.
This new plan will decide what goes where for the next 20 years, including the kind of houses we’ll build, where they’ll go, what the future of farming and heritage buildings will be, how we deal with climate change.