As Christmas approaches, life can begin to feel more cluttered than usual, with end-of-year deadlines looming, festive season events filling the calendar and preparations for family gatherings sucking up much of our remaining free time. When we do find a spare moment, a barrage of Christmas TV specials, promotions and playlists compete for our attention but rarely offer us anything of real substance.

To help remedy this, we offer a few suggestions for your ‘cultural consumption’ this season that might help you to connect more meaningfully to the spirit of Advent and Christmas.

App: Hallow, Advent Pray25 with C S Lewis’

The popular Hallow prayer app is inviting users to ‘surrender it all this Advent season’ and to prepare their hearts for Jesus ‘like never before’ by joining this year’s ‘Pray25’ prayer challenge. The challenge began on Monday 3 December and features readings from the works of C S Lewis read by award-winning actor Liam Neeson, who has had a long association with Lewis’ work, having also voiced Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia movies in the early 2000s.

To guide the app’s users through daily Advent prayer and reflections based on various works by Lewis—including The Four Loves, Mere Christianity and The Great Divorce—Neeson is joined by Jonathan Roumie, best known for playing Jesus Christ in the television show The Chosen, and by Sr Miriam James Heidland SOLT, a popular Catholic speaker, podcaster and author.

According to Hallow, the Advent Pray25 reflections ‘focus on the three comings of Christ: personally into each of our hearts, His Second Coming at the end of time, and as an infant in Bethlehem.’

Neeson has said he has ‘partnered with Hallow to help guide folks through some beautiful meditations’ and that it has been ‘an honour to journey through them with the community on the app’. Roumie is also ‘incredibly excited’ to be partnering with Neeson and Sr Miriam on this project. ‘The content is fantastic and will really impact people and help them find peace during this hectic time of year,’ he says.

By late November, more than 180,000 people had signed up to the Pray25 challenge, reflecting the enduring popularity and relevance of Lewis’ writings for people of faith and for those who are seeking greater meaning and purpose.

‘Look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in,’ writes Lewis in Mere Christianity. Joining the Pray25 challenge is one way to switch off from all the distractions for a few minutes each day and to ‘look for Christ’ this Advent season.

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Theatre: A Christmas Carol

Based on Charles Dickens’ popular novella, this Tony-award-winning theatrical production of A Christmas Carol tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter old man whose life is transformed when he is visited by the ghost of his former business partner and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, forcing him to come to terms with his own emotional wounds and with the considerable harm he has done to others.

Dickens first published A Christmas Carol in London in 1843, at a time when Victorian London was rediscovering and reinventing its Christmas traditions, and the story is credited with popularising many of the Christmas customs we take for granted today, including family gatherings, festive Christmas food and drink, and the greeting ‘Merry Christmas’.

Remaining true to the spirit of its source material, the production is staged with ingenious, breathtaking simplicity, combining moving performances, audience participation, and a joyful, infectious sense of good will to breathe new life into a story that has been adapted countless times for stage and screen.

Starring Welsh character actor Owen Teale as Scrooge, the production deftly weaves beautiful arrangements of 12 traditional carols through the plot, so that while the story does not directly engage with the nativity of Christ, the themes of redemption and conversion are nevertheless brought to the fore. Ultimately, the realisation that he is loved with a love he hasn’t earnt or deserved is what humbles and converts Scrooge, helping him to recognise the inherent dignity of those around him and to respond to them with compassion.

Dickens was inspired to write A Christmas Carol after visiting Field Lane Ragged School, an institution for London street children. He hoped that his Christmas narrative would stir hearts and draw public attention to the plight of London’s poor, and this production certainly stays true to that intention, buoying its audience with a spirit of good will and generosity. As G K Chesterton wrote of Dicken’s novella, ‘The beauty and blessing of the story ... lie in the great furnace of real happiness that glows through Scrooge and everything around him ... Whether the Christmas visions would or would not convert Scrooge, they convert us.’

A Christmas Carol is playing at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne until 7 January 2024. Bookings can be made through Ticketek.

Some of the ‘haunting’ scenes in the production include loud noises, special effects and depictions of the supernatural that might be frightening for younger children. The producers advise that it is suitable for children aged eight years and over, but parents should exercise their discretion.

Concert: Christmas Carols at the Cathedral

Throughout the year, the St Patrick’s Cathedral concert series draws people from across the city into one of Melbourne’s most inspiring spaces to be uplifted by beautiful music performed by world-class musicians—and Advent is no exception.

The Cathedral’s annual family concert of traditional and modern Christmas carols includes plenty of audience participation, a children’s segment and an appearance by a ‘special guest’. Featuring the Cathedral Brass, Cathedral Schola and the Grand Organ, this performance promises to fill the Cathedral with the joy and beauty of the Christmas story, told through music.

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Christmas Carols at the Cathedral
Sunday 17 December 2023, 3pm–4.15pm
St Patrick’s Cathedral, East Melbourne.

Streaming: The Velveteen Rabbit

This charming adaptation of the much-loved early 20th-century children’s storybook by Margery Williams tells the story a young boy, William (Phoenix Laroche), and the velveteen toy rabbit he receives one year for Christmas when he is feeling particularly vulnerable and alone after moving to a new home in the country.

In its depiction of the toy rabbit’s quest to win the love of his owner and thereby become ‘real’, the story touchingly explores the relationship between love and true identity, as well as themes of growth, loss, loyalty and courage. Combining live action and animation, the 44-minute run time is manageable for younger, shorter attention spans, and although the story is not explicitly Christian, its suggestion that our true identity is to be found not in our appearance, ambitions or achievements but in the experience of unconditional, sacrificial love is a timely message for families to reflect on at Christmas.

Common Sense Media recommends The Velveteen Rabbit for children aged six years and above. It can be streamed on Apple TV+.