'Christmas starts with Christ': Churches celebrate the true meaning of Christmas

Librarian Kerry Wheatley at the Alderman Lacey Library in Copnor with one of the knitted sheep that is part of the sheep trail organised by St Cuthbert's Church.

Churches around the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth will celebrate the festive season with a variety of events to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Special events intending to demonstrate that 'Christmas starts with Christ' will run alongside the usual carol services and Midnight Communions.

One such event will be the annual Christmas Tree Festival on the Isle of Wight, which is now in its 17th year and has so far raised almost £70,000 for charity.

More than 130 trees are decorated by community groups and local organisations and are displayed in six venues across the island.

In addition to this, concerts, craft fairs and markets held by various churches will invite locals to get involved in the festive spirit and discover the true meaning of Christmas.

Brighstone village will be the host of a Nativity Pageant, a new event during which residents will dress as Nativity characters and process around the village, leading spectators to a stable where carols will be sung and yet more characters will be found celebrating Jesus' birth.

Douglas Gulliver and his son Bailey at last year's Brighstone Christmas Tree Festival

St Cuthbert's Church in Copnor and Whitely Church have both created sheep trails around their communities. Knitted sheep have been hidden in various shops, and families are invited to record where they have been found for entry into a prize draw. St Jude's in Southsea has also created a knitted Nativity trail.

Other events held across the diocese will include a Crib Festival at St John's Church in Locks Heath, a Christmas Tree Festival at St Mary's Church in Alverstoke, and a Live Nativity held by Holy Rood Church in Stubbington, where families will be given the chance to meet characters from the Nativity story and stroke real animals in stable.

The annual voucher scheme run by Churches Homeless Action will also run once again this year across east Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Residents are invited to buy gift vouchers from specific stores and supermarkets which are then distributed among the homeless, disadvantaged families and asylum seekers, along with a Christmas card from their donator.

Churches are hoping that everyone, including those who do not identify with the Christian faith, will be encouraged to remember those less fortunate than themselves during this season, and will enter fully into the celebration of Jesus' birth.

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