Have you done all your Christmas shopping yet? And is your family Christmas going to be as ‘perfect’ as all those images you’ve been bombarded with on the television for the past month?

Or are you taking a more reflective approach on this day, and taking time to appreciate the real meaning of Christmas?

Vivien Drydon, a member of the congregation at Hexham Abbey, and Canon Frank Dexter are hoping it’s the latter and want to spread the message that all churches in the district are extending a warm welcome over the festive season to experience a moment of calm; at a time when enforced jollity at office Christmas parties, secret Santas and mad dashes around the shops for the latest ephemera are the norm.

“It’s not just shopping, eating, drinking and cooking. Christmas would not be here if it was not for the fact that it is a religious festival,” said Vivien. “And churches are not just for the faithful. They are open to everybody to come in and see what lovely places they are and have a great time.”

What churches offered, said Vivien, was ‘an oasis of peace’ at a time when people were being put under undue pressure.

“They are somewhere for everybody to come where they can feel welcome and come in and de-stress, take in the ambience of the place, meet nice people. What we want to get across is the real meaning of Christmas.”

And there are plenty of community events that have been and are taking place in churches throughout the district in the run-up to Christmas, from Christingles to carol services, to remind people about what we are celebrating at this time of year.

At Hexham Abbey, one of its most popular events is the annual Christmas fair, which this year takes place on Saturday, December 14.

“In the Abbey during the Christmas fair this place is packed with people who do not normally come to church,” said Vivien.

“We realised what an opportunity it was, bringing people here who would not normally feel comfortable coming into a church and the other churches will be doing similar things.”

And that point is stressed by Canon Dexter. Although you may not want to listen to a religious service about the Old Testament prophecies and the story of the angel appearing to Mary, you might want to listen to the inspiring music of advent to get you into the festive mood – and at the right time.

“All this pre-empting of Christmas gets worse every year,” he said.

“You lose the fact that the church has the season of advent. The life of the Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist in preparation for the coming of Jesus. It is a slow build-up and I do get annoyed most years when people say to me in September, ‘you’re coming up to your busy time’.

“Then there’s the adverts on television showing people eating more food than they could possibly consume in a month. There is more to Christmas than anxiety about having the perfect meal. The more it is hyped up, the greater the failure for people.

“It is a matter of emphasis. Getting up a 3am to put the turkey in, or something else which is more relaxed. We just have to present what we have as an alternative.”

Vivien added: “We love it which is why we come and we get more out of it by having our faith. I almost feel a bit sad on Boxing Day when the sales are on. I want to celebrate the whole 12 days of Christmas.

“We just want people to know that they can come here and find a quiet space. There is a private chapel here where anybody can go and chill. Or you can listen to the music if there is something going on. And there will be a steward to talk to about the Abbey if you want to or you can just sit in peace. Nobody is going to bother you.”