British political and religious leaders have invoked the virtues of faith, hope and charity in their Christmas messages, using the season to highlight a range of issues, from war and poverty to homelessness.
The Prime Minister struck a positive note with her message, recollecting that there had been much to celebrate in 2016, including the Queen’s 90th birthday and Olympic successes, the BBC has reported.
Acknowledging the divisive nature of the referendum on membership of the European Union, she added that it too was a cause for optimism, saying: “As we leave the European Union we must seize an historic opportunity to forge a bold new role for ourselves in the world and to unite our country as we move forward into the future.”
May promised to “stand up for the freedom of people of all religions to practise their beliefs in peace and safety”, before paying tribute to those who work over Christmas.
“Wherever you are this Christmas, I wish you joy and peace in this season of celebration, along with health and happiness in the year ahead,” she said.
Her opposite number, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile chose to focus his message on the blight of homelessness.
Citing figures from homelessness charity Shelter, Corbyn said that 120,000 children will spend this Christmas without a home of their own. He added that rough sleeping has doubled over the last six years, and increased by 30 per cent in the last year alone.
“The fact is, in the sixth richest country in the world, no one should be on the streets in the first place,” he said, pledging that under a Labour government, homelessness would be completely eradicated by “doubling the number of homes available for people who are sleeping on the streets.”
Corbyn thanked volunteers, public service workers and charity workers who “give tirelessly to help others,” and who Corbyn said “remind us of Christmas values: love for your neighbour, working together, and hope – hope – that things can be different.
He added: “These are Labour values, my values, our values” which “remind us that together we can, and will, change our country for the better.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury echoed the Prime Minister’s reflections on Britain being a divided nation, telling Christian worshippers at Canterbury Cathedral that the current atmosphere of disunity demonstrates that “our values are in the wrong place,” the Telegraph has reported.
“The end of 2016 finds us all in a different kind of world, one less predictable and certain, which feels more awash with fear and division,” he said, adding that such uncertainty at a time of prosperity “tells us that our values are in the wrong place. …. Economic progress, technological progress, communication progress hasn’t resulted in economic justice.
“It hasn’t delivered glory for us.”
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, spoke on a similar theme last night at Christmas midnight mass at Westminster Cathedral, telling the faithful that there was a “deep and widening sense of uncertainly” in the world.
“Yes, we are anxious of the current instability in economic prospects and in the effectiveness of political structures,” he said, adding: “But here we come to a deeper centre, to Bethlehem, to him who shows us the foundations on which we must build, the priorities we must seek.
“He shows us the true centre of our being.”
The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, opted for a more upbeat mood, however, taking the opportunity to remind Britons that “overall the people of this planet are living longer, they’re living in better health, they’re better educated than ever before, particularly women.
“I can tell you that Global Britain is leading that effort,” he said, adding: “So, hope that cheers you up.”
“Have a great #Christmas and a happy 2017.”
— Foreign Office (FCO) (@foreignoffice) December 23, 2016