Christmas has an inevitability about it. Whether it's comforting, warming and safe, an awkward family negotiation, walking on eggshells, or just plain hard work with a family to feed, others to worry about and sacrifice yourself for, it always rolls around.
Christmas was always the same until I turned 26. Before then, although the people might have changed, going first from a happy nuclear family and grandparents, through a divorce and bereavement to just me, Mum and grandma left, and later just me and my mum, for years it was the same.
Then at 26, after my mother died, I spent Christmas with my dad for the first time since the divorce. After that came a flurry of firsts: first in America with my half-brother, first married, first with a baby...
But this year, aged 31, something is a bit more unusual.
This year I'll be having Christmas with two foster children, aged seven and five, who are spending their first Christmas away from their mum. Two of the 69,000 children in the UK who are in care, thousands of whom are waiting to be adopted or for the certainty of ‘permanence’ - which could be long-term foster care with the same family, or a special guardian to come forward so they know where they belong, at least until they are 21. These children don’t know where they will have their next Christmas.
Crucially though, it's a beacon of normality amongst the uncertainty that surrounds them and many other ‘looked after children’. No matter what they've experienced on 25th December at home, they've been immersed in so much of the atmosphere of Christmas, through adverts, singing carols at school and seeing lights in the street to know what Christmas is. And that can be comforting.
While our daughter is too young to appreciate Christmas, these two kids still believe in its ‘magic’. Lists are written to Santa and one expects the entirety of the Argos catalogue to come shooting down the chimney - quite exactly how they think it will fit in the small log-burner at the bottom is still unanswered. Christmas means excitement for them; it's a time that is guaranteed to be fun. The anticipation of presents, Santa and that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that makes Christmas, Christmas.
Whatever comes next for them, and wherever they are this time next year, the run up to Christmas for these two is exciting as they anticipate something they know is sure to happen in a timescale they can get their heads round. And for them that is such a precious commodity! Unlike so many things, Christmas will come and there will be presents under the tree for them that say you have a place here, you're valuable and loved here, now, whatever comes in the future.
But as a Christian, Christmas is the yearly anticipation of something that will, and indeed has already happened. God coming to earth to live among us happened and it culminated in Him sacrificing himself for us so that we'd have a home, we’d be ‘adopted’ into a family where we could be truly fulfilled. A family where hope isn't hoping against hope, but where hope is having a future and being known.
So my prayer this Christmas is that looked after children across the UK and those in my own home will know they have a hope and future, a home that will be theirs for good. It might not come this Christmas but I pray it will by next year.
James works for Home for Good, a fostering and adoption charity with a mission to find a home for every child in the UK that needs one. Home for Good believe that because of the power of our own ‘adoption’ into God's family, Christians should be the most motivated to provide loving and caring homes for the thousands of ‘looked after children’ in the UK who need foster placements or adoptive parents.