Last Sunday St Marys was busy with expectant people. The lights were dimmed and two soloists from the wonderful church choir started the Carols. It is a ritual which never loses its excitement. The Nine Lessons and Carols means that we are finally nearing Christmas itself. I was so glad to be asked to read John Betjeman’s poem “Christmas” which summons up the late 20th century festivities.
“And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad.”
Betjeman describes Christmas gifts: the “inexpensive scent” and “hideous tie, so kindly meant”. He celebrates the secular celebration with which we are all very familiar.
From his Radio series on “The History of the World in 100 Objects” many will know Neil Macgregor, formerly Head of the British Museum and now a highly prized British export – running the Berlin Museums. Interviewed on his recent book on “Living with Gods” he said that the closest the British got to an annual cultural celebration of common-belief was Christmas. I suspect he meant the cultural link which enables everyone of any background to wish each other a “Happy Christmas”, to join in the common experience of everything from Christmas Trees to “The Sound of Music”….
This widely accepted secular festival does however have an underpinning without which I don’t believe it would have anything like the resonance that enables it to grip our imaginations. For as long as mankind has celebrated there has been a festival marking the longest night and the return of the light.
However in the Christian celebration of Christmas the coming of the “light” takes on a profound significance. Betjeman’s poem ends
“And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?”
To everyone, whatever their own personal take on Christmas, I wish you all a very happy and very peaceful break and extend our thanks to the many whose Christmas is delayed or curtailed to keep us safe and well.
Photo caption: Steyning Grammar School on their charity fundraiser added a colourful note to Horsham’s Carfax