The mercury is falling, cold, crisp days and nights are here, and with the Big Day less than three weeks away, now is the perfect time for a Christmas Tree Festival.

One of many across the country is at St John’s Birkdale – a charming Arts & Crafts style church – in Southport. St John’s opened its doors for the start of its Christmas Tree Festival last Friday (December 2), and the Merseyside branch of SSAFA, the Armed Forces had its own Christmas tree for the second year running.

Tony Brougham, Merseyside Branch Fundraiser, takes up the story, saying: “My wife Claire and I put up the tree – very kindly donated by Laurence Wilkin – and put on all the decorations and lights, which are much easier to check than in years gone by!

We also ‘memory cards’ to put on the tree. These are for people to remember their family members and friends who were in the Armed Forces, but are sadly no longer with us.

Some of these messages are particularly hard hitting, and hint at the pain of loss felt years, sometimes decades on. This is one of the reasons why, to me, Christmas Tree Festivals are so important, because whether you go to church or not, they’re a focal point for all in the local community, and literally provide light in the cold and gloomy days at this time of year.

And,” said Tony, “after two years of pandemic and lockdowns and now a cost-of-living crisis affecting many people, including veterans, I think we all could do with a bit of light, especially at Christmas.”

He added that the launch of the Christmas Tree Festival – 27 firs all in – included a packed carol concert on the Friday and an equally busy market on the Saturday. This saw many people not familiar with SSAFA learn more about the UK’s oldest tri-service charity and donate so that it can carry on its work for serving personnel, veterans, and their families.

The Christmas Tree Festival at St John’s Birkdale ends, appropriately enough, on Twelfth Night (January 5, 2023).

However, that was not the only dose of seasonal festivities for SSAFA Merseyside over a busy weekend.

Sunday, December 4 saw the 29th annual gathering of the SSAFA Alexandrians at The Athenaeum, a venue that the epithet “iconic” barely does justice.

The well-attended event included a brass recital by the Formby Band wowing the audience with their virtuosity and Christmassy capriccios.

Malcolm Ranson, SSAFA Merseyside Branch Treasurer commented: “It was a splendid evening, so wonderfully put on by staff of The Athenaeum, at SSAFA Alexandrians’ Christmas Brass concert, which saw another brilliant performance by the Formby Band helping us raise more funds to help us support the Forces community when, where, and how they need it.

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