THE residents of Cockermouth, in Cumbria, shrugged off the woes that flooding has brought them and made merry at a food festival over the weekend.
It filled the centre of their town with crowds determined to enjoy themselves in the company of their friends and neighbours, all refusing to be downcast by homes ruined by floodwaters and plans for Christmas in tatters.
Among them was a couple I know, both in their late 80s, whose home of half a century had several inches of dirty, stinking water throughout, not just from the nearby river but from drains overflowed by torrential rain.
Carpets and furniture have already gone to the tip, but sodden plaster is still peeling off the walls, and it will be months before their home dries out sufficiently for it to be made comfortable once more.
Such a calamity would be difficult to bear at any age, but it strikes cruelly hard for a couple getting on in years.
Yet they were out on Saturday night with everyone else, and plan on having a wonderful Christmas.
They are in good heart about the future, refuse to feel sorry for themselves and joke that they were sick of the three-piece suite anyway, so here’s the perfect opportunity to buy a new one.
Their resilience is in large part down to the support that the people of Cumbria have shown each other, and which should be so admired by the rest of us.
Family have rallied round the elderly couple, of course, but so have friends, neighbours and even strangers, who opened their homes, welcomed the victims of flooding in, lent a shoulder to cry on and then set to with shovels and mops to help clear up the mess.
As a demonstration of how communities pull together in times of crisis, the example of Cockermouth, and all the other places in Cumbria, Lancashire and Scotland that suffered, could not be bettered.
We have seen the same spirit at work in flood-hit communities in Yorkshire over the years, as adversity has brought out the very best in human nature.
That the floods happened so close to Christmas has played its part in the extraordinary response of the people of Cumbria, and their determination to carry on as usual.
People whose minds are on being with loved ones – perhaps for the only time during the year – have found themselves particularly moved by the plight of those whose homes have been devastated.
This has been a practical demonstration of the Christmas spirit of goodwill to all, and we should be heartened by it.
Coincidentally, it came against the backdrop of a spectacularly ill-timed report into the state of Christian belief and practice released earlier this month.
The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, headed by former senior judge Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, reached a series of gloomy conclusions about a general decline in Christian affiliation.
It recommended that the religion of this country should be taken out of school assemblies, and even downplayed in the next coronation, to be replaced with a vague notion of “pluralism”.
The Commission was a perfect example of the peculiar British talent for hacking away at traditional values that have long underpinned our way of life and seeking to leave a vacuum in their place.
Spiritually – if such a notion didn’t cause the commission to wince – it belongs with those periodic attempts by the right-on to do away with the name Christmas on the grounds that it may cause offence and rebrand this time of year as a “winter celebration”.
The celebration would, naturally, be one of consumerism rather than involving any thought for others.
Releasing the report at the point when the minds of many adults and children alike were turning to the Christmas story, and when a lot of people are likely to attend – and be uplifted by – their only church service of the year, was an odd and joyless thing to do.
Giving the churches a kicking could have waited until the New Year.Yes, regular attendance at services is undoubtedly a lot less common than it once was, but to the people of Cockermouth lustily singing carols on Saturday evening, such a conclusion must have seemed pretty irrelevant.
That’s because churches offered refuge when the waters swept in, irrespective of whether those coming through the doors ever did so in order to worship.
But most of all, it is because they have seen the Christian spirit alive and well in their town these past few weeks, getting its hands dirty and its feet wet in order to help others.
It could not have manifested itself at a more appropriate time of year, and the comfort it has brought will help to ensure that Christmas for the elderly couple and all the rest of the people in Cockermouth is a time of friendship and goodwill. They deserve every moment of the joy that brings.