Is there religion in your Christmas?

By Rowan Watson, Chaplaincy Assistant, University of Reading  

A picture of three dolls depicting the nativity scene

Through working at the Chaplaincy, we experience a great variety of world views. Some students explain their strong belief in monarchy as the best form of government, others assure me that all life on Earth is evolving into crabs. One of our favourite topics of conversation is simply asking ‘What do you believe God is like?’. 

A popular answer is the description of a distant and uncaring being, living in the clouds. Occasionally God has been described to me as apathetic to our pain, watching His creations suffer and disdainfully refusing to do anything about it. It is no surprise that people with these views see Christianity as easily separated from the Santa Claus, Christmas Movies, Turkey and Roast potatoes parts of Christmas, but I don’t think this is entirely true. 

At Christmas, we Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, who we consider to be God on Earth. The key part of this for me is that God did not choose to be a distant being in the clouds – He saw His creations suffering and refused to ignore it. 

Christmas is about the incarnation. This means part of the indescribable God-ness of God being funnelled into human form. Jesus was fully God whilst also being fully Man. In easier terms, the incarnation is about God taking a human shape and moving into our neighbourhood, right next door. God draws near to us.  

Over the centuries, this idea has morphed into traditions about being generous to one another, opening our homes to guests and giving them the best we have. God is a close friend and treats us better than we deserve, so let’s treat others that way too!  

This part of Christmas has something more to say to those who experience a less joyful Christmas. When the night draws in and the cold confines us to our houses, winter can leave some of us withdrawn from our social circles. International students can find this time particularly challenging because of their UK friends returning home and campus shutting shop for the holidays.

A stained glass window depicting an angel and the Star of Bethlehem

Those with difficult family relationships face a different sort of loneliness. Being estranged from those who are meant to support you unconditionally can cause a lot of pain at Christmas. In the UK our cultural focus is around families and generosity, but these are not a light in a dark time for everyone. 

Not to mention that ‘isolation’ has taken on a whole new meaning recently. As I write, it is uncertain to what extent this will be a feature of our collective Christmases. I personally experience some of these issues, albeit not as severely as some, and so Christmas time can bring about a feeling of loneliness.  

I find that Christmas, at its core, sets out to tackle issues like these. We believe that God is so fond of His Creations that He chose to walk among them, and that this love continues. When I find myself feeling isolated, afraid and pessimistic about the future, I remind myself of that God comforts me by sitting beside me. I am loved by the Creator of everything in existence.  

And it is not only through God that we can find this comfort. Many Christians take this time to reach out to those in the community who are struggling. Some members of our community are offering places at their Christmas table for the most important meal of the year in this spirit, details on how to take a place at a local person’s table, are below. 

Beyond that, participating in Christmas festivities can bring opportunities to meet a new side of the community. If family cannot be part of your Christmas celebrations, a ‘friends’ style family embodies the spirit of the season and is just as joyful and fulfilling. I find that online celebrations can feel distant, but when a loved one is the other side of the world, it can bring them into your living room and allow you to celebrate together. 

Check out the University Chaplaincy list of What’s On in Reading this season, and go and seek God while He is near, either through religious ceremony or through a bottle of mulled wine with a friend on Facetime. He’s in both places. 

 

 

What’s on this Christmas? 

Events collated by the University Chaplaincy and shared in good faith. For more events see: https://www.whatsonreading.com/ 

 

Market Yard 

When: 26th November – 23rd December  

Where: Reading Printhouse 

What: Market Yard is transforming into a unique space to socialise, eat and drink 

Cost: Free 

More information here: https://www.marketyard.co.uk/ 

 

Winter Wonderland 

When: 13th November – 3rd January 

Where: Hills Meadow by Reading Bridge 

What: An exciting Christmas adventure for people of all ages that includes ice skating, Santa’s grotto and a variety of food and drink 

Cost: From £12 

More information here: https://www.facebook.com/outdooricerink.co.uk/ 

Book tickets here: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/ice-skating 

 

The Invisible Dress Exhibition 

When: 28th November – 5th January  

Where: HUMOS, Caversham 

What: ‘The Invisible Dress’ refers to the scents that we use to complete our look. This exhibition combines fashion illustration, perfume and floral arrangements. 

Cost: Free 

More information here:
https://whatsonreading.com/venues/humos/whats-on/invisible-dress 

 

Twilight Trail: Biscuit Town 

When: 3rd – 31st December 

Where: Abbey Ruins and Forbury Gardens 

What: An accessible open-air light trail experience 

Cost: From £8 

Book tickets here: https://web.livingreading.co.uk/twilight-trail-2021 

 

The Snow Queen 

When: 3rd – 24th December 

Where: South Street Arts Centre 

What: A new play, based on the original story by Hans Christian Anderson about two best friends and a dangerous journey across Scandinavia  

Cost: From £12 

Book tickets here: https://whatsonreading.com/snow-queen 

 

A Christmas Carol 

When: 3rd – 31st December 

Where: Reading Rep Theatre 

What: A live performance of the Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol, performed by Reading Rep Theatre 

Cost: From £14 

Book tickets here: https://www.readingrep.com/a-christmas-carol/ 

 

Forgetful Elf Trail 

When:4th – 23rd December 

Where: Reading Museum 

What: Help the Elf find his lost belongings around the museum. Includes writing letter to Santa and Christmas craft pack 

Cost: £3 per pack 

More information here: https://www.readingmuseum.org.uk/holiday-fun-reading-museum 

 

Beauty and the Beast 

When: 4th December – 3rd January 

Where: The Hexagon 

What: An exciting pantomime featuring Justin Fletcher, also known as Mr Tumble 

Cost: From £15 

Book tickets here: https://whatsonreading.com/beauty-and-beast 

 

Student Christmas Day Lunch 

When: 25th December, 1-2.30pm 

Where: Our Lady of Peace church hall 

What: Turkey lunch hosted by Chaplain, Sister Vivian (10 spaces). Booking essential: email with food allergy details before Friday 17th December 5pm to: v.onyeneho@reading.ac.uk 

Cost: Free 

 

For times of (free) Christmas and Carol services, Google your nearest church. 

 

General

Reading Museum 

What: Archaeology, Art, History and Natural History. Café and shop. 

Cost: Free 

Opening times and more information here: https://www.readingmuseum.org.uk/ 

 

Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) 

What: History of English farming and country life. Garden, café, and shop 

Cost: Free 

Opening times and more information here: https://merl.reading.ac.uk/ 

 

Want to be hosted for a meal or receive hospitality from a local family during the break? 

Friends International connects international students with local hosts. Download the App: https://www.friendsinternational.uk/international-student-app/ click on “Local Link”. 

 

Ramadan 2021

by
Student representatives of the Reading Islamic Society
Hatty Taylor and Nozomi Tolworthy, UoR Diversity and Inclusion Advisors   

 

What is Ramadan? 

Ramadan marks the month when the Holy Quran is said to have been revealed to Prophet Muhammad PBUH by Allah (God). This is observed by a month-long fast. 

Muslims around the world abstain from food and drink for 30 days, including water, during daylight hours (from dawn to dusk), as a means of celebrating and reflecting on their faith. 

Fasting at Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam – the fundamental rules that all Muslims follow. Find out more about the five pillars of Islam in this video: Islam, the Quran, and the Five Pillars’. 

 

 

 

When is Ramadan?  

Ramadan is the 9th month in the Islamic Lunar Calendar which consists of 12 months in a year of 354/55 days. In Arabic, this is called the Hijri Calendar and started with the migration of Prophet Muhammed PBUH to Madinah from Makkah 1442 years ago.

Due to the Islamic Calendar being based on the different phases of the moon, each of the months move back around 10 days each year. So, Ramadan could be in the middle of summer in 2015 and be in December by 2030This year, Ramadan begins on Monday 12th April, and will end on Wednesday 12th May. 

 

 

 

Who Takes Part in Fasting?  

Every Muslim should take part in Fasting, unless 

  • You’re too oldIf you have reached an age where abstaining from water or food is too difficult or impossible, then you do not and should not fast.  

 

  • You’re too young – Generally, children below the age of 14 do not fast, as it is too difficult physically but also because they do not fully understand the meaning and the spiritual importance of fasting.  

 

  • You’re traveling – Travelling is an excuse not to fast for the day/days you are fasting as it can be exhausting to travel and would therefore require food and water. However, the days you missed should be made up after Ramadan is over. The aim should be to have completed all 30 days of Ramadan fast before the next Ramadan.  

 

  • You’re sick – Whether you have a long-term or short-term illness, you are excused from fasting if fasting would make the illness worse or if it is simply impossible to abstain from food/water.  

If you have started the day fasting, but felt dizzy or sick, then you should immediately break your fast. Similarly, women who are experiencing their menstrual cycle are also exempt from fasting as the physical body is in a much weaker state and therefore requires nourishment.  

 

 

Top 10 Tips  

  • Plan Your Meals
    Eat fruits filled with water such as cucumber and watermelon to help with thirst during the day.
    Eat slow burning foods for suhoor such as porridge.
    Avoid fried foods!!! 

 

  • Plan your Study Schedule
    Some people prefer studying in the early afternoon, others prefer studying after Iftar when you’re no longer hungry and can focus much better. Find what works best for you and make a routine. 

 

  • Stay Consistent
    This is a month of reflection, so try to stay away from social media and TV which could distract you from your intentions of this month. 

 

  • Go on a Walk after Iftar!
    This will help digest the food better, make you feel energised and prepare you for 
    taraweeh 

 

  • Nap
    between 
    Duhr and Asr (if you don’t want to look like a zombie during iftar and it’s a beautiful Sunnah).

 

  • Keep Motivated
    Make a realistic Ramadan goal list and hang it up
    Make a list for the reasons for fasting to keep you motivated during the low-imaan Days
    Prepare a Ramadan playlist to listen to throughout Ramadan (Quran or lectures/podcasts) 

 

  • Learn/Implement New Habits
    that you can carry on after Ramadan – everyone has high imaan and the shaytan is locked up, a great excuse to implement small daily habits such as saying daily duas or giving a pound a day to charity or even improving our vocabulary.  

 

  • Evaluate and Reflect Throughout Ramadan
    Take time, even just 5 minutes, every night to check if you’re still on track to achieving yours goals, if not slightly amend them or work super hard the next daySince Ramadan is the month of the Quran, aim to read the Quran from beginning to end in this month, if you can, and reflect on the meanings. 

 

  • Plan to Spend as Much Time as Possible
    with 4 – your family, Allah, the Quran, yourself 

 

  • Enjoy Ramadan and Get Excited for Eid! 

 

 

 

 

How to Support Those who are Fasting  

If you do not observe the month of Ramadan, you can help Muslim family, friends, coursemates and colleagues by:

 

  • Trying not to schedule meetings around evening time (dusk) when the fast for the day ends, so they can eat on time.
  • Additionally, don’t schedule catch-ups over a lunch or dinner, as you will be the only one eating.
  • Don’t make a big deal about eating. Most Muslims don’t mind if you eat/drink near them so long as you’re not in their face about it.
  • Try not to get them involved in strenuous activities which could be tiring – otherwise it could make them feel even more weaker. 

 

  • Be understanding if they need more time in day-to-day activities, as time must be taken out for prayers. 

 

  • If you notice a Muslim peer not fasting for the day, don’t question it; they have their reasons for not doing so. 

 

  • Show your encouragement with kind gestures and words.    

 

  • Ask them how you could support them through this month e.g., any adjustments that may need to be made. Everyone’s needs are different, so it’s best to ask individually. 

 

  • Once Eid celebrations begin (which marks the end of Ramadan), wish your Muslim peers an Eid Mubarak, it means a lot! 

 

 

 

Further Resources 

 

 

  • Islam In Brief – An introduction to the teachings and history of Islam, from Harvard University

 

  • Islam, the Quran, and the Five Pillars – John Green teaches the history of Islam, including the revelation of the Quran to Muhammad PBUH, the five pillars of Islam, how the Islamic empire got its start, the Rightly Guided Caliphs, and more

 

  • Anyone is welcome to join a collection of online events which are educational or in celebration of Ramadan by following the link to – Big Virtual Iftar

Faith or no faith, you’re all welcome to join us at the #bigvirtualiftar events via YouTube Live! Join the Muslim community in solidarity in this year’s month of #Ramadan during the ongoing #COVID19 crisis with people impacted by #lockdowns & #socialdistancing.We usually invite our non-Muslim friends from local communities to our Mosques to join us for the Big Iftar Dinner and we host them in a pleasant evening to talk about interfaith matters and to break bread with us. However, due to the current restrictions, so we would like to invite you to our virtual events which will consist of online live talks, a virtual tour of Britain’s biggest Mosque, National Fasting Challenge, personal stories of Muslims impacted by COVID-19, question & answer sessions and to watch people breaking a fast live.” 

 

  • The Muslim Council of Britain – This webpage shares guidelines, advice and signposting resources to help Muslims in Britain make the most of the blessed month, as well as friends, neighbours and colleagues of Muslims. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beginners guide to…. Christianity

We are a diverse community here at Reading, all focussed on learning, both academically, professionally and about others. This is the first in a series of blogs introducing the key features of different religions.

(Guest post by Beth Rice, studying philosophy and religion at A-level, who wrote this while on work experience at the University of Reading)

Some key aspects of the Christian faith

The main Christian beliefs are that:

  • God created the Universe,
  • God exists in three persons known as the Holy Trinity,
  • There is an Afterlife.

The Creation Stories: There are two Creation Stories found in the beginning of the bible. These are known as Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. In both accounts, God is the creator. God has three main characteristics; he is omnibenevolent (all-loving), omniscient (all- knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful)

The Holy Trinity: The belief in the Holy Trinity is that God exists in three persons – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. God the Father created the Universe and sent Jesus to earth as a sacrifice for human sin where he died on the cross. Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary and Joseph and experienced human suffering and temptation however lived a perfect life. The Holy Spirit however is more complicated. The Holy Spirit lives inside those people that believe in God

Afterlife: Although all Christians believe in an afterlife, there are many different denominations of Christianity (including Protestants and Catholics) and often different groups have different views on life after death and other aspects of the Christian faith or religious practices.

Major  Christian events

Shrove Tuesday: the last day of feasting before Lent (40 days of fasting) is now most commonly know as Pancake Day. Shrove Tuesday for Christians is traditionally a preparation for Lent (see below). It is a way of using up ingredients such as milk, eggs, flour etc.

Ash Wednesday: marks the first day of Lent when some Christians begin to fast and pray in order to replicate Jesus’s 40 days of fasting in the desert.

Lent: 46 days before Easter (excluding Sundays) to replicate the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert. During Lent some denominations of Christianity choose to fast and pray in order to reconcile with God whilst others try to give up items such as chocolate, alcohol smoking etc.

Holy Week: the week before Easter remembering the last of Jesus’s life on Earth. Palm Sunday commemorates the beginning of Holy Week. Often churches hand out crosses made of palm leaves to remember Jesus riding on a donkey when entering Jerusalem. Maundy Thursday marks the Last Supper Jesus had with his Apostles. Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus.

Easter: Easter Sunday celebrates Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

Christmas: Christmas Day is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Often the Nativity of Jesus is shared in churches during the lead up to Christmas to remember Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem.

Being a Christian at the University

The University, like the rest of the UK, predominantly follows the traditional ‘Christian’ calendar  and thus the main vacations coincide with Christmas and Easter periods.

At the University of Reading there is a close-knit community of Christian students that participate in many social events such as the Bible Study Society https://www.rusu.co.uk/societies/biblestudysociety/ and Christian Union https://www.rusu.co.uk/societies/rucu/.

The Chaplaincy Centre (open from 8.30am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday) welcomes students and staff. They are available to contact by email chaplaincy@reading.ac.uk or phone 0118 378 8797 and have a wide range of weekly chaplaincy events for anyone to join. The chaplaincy offers a place for prayer as well as more general support for staff and students of all faiths and none.