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Christmas 2020
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I do not know how many times since 1210 there have been interruptions in the village celebration of Christmas. Few, I would imagine. The present church was built on or near a previous one, and not completed till 1230. There are records a former Lord of the Manor collected and placed in a filing cabinet, where they have remained undisturbed for a decade. Perhaps under Cromwell there were times of muted observances, but since the estate remained in the old faith, it was both suspect and somewhat independent, and probably carried on regardless.

Our Christmas rituals have evolved over the centuries, as has the wider notion of Christmas itself. More severe congregants maintain that the only day the scriptures enjoin us to observe is the Sabbath. All the claimed holy days are mere appurtenances. Others, on sounder ground, point out that Easter has a prior call on our attention. Christmas was just a land-grab to rope in some pagans, by sanitizing their mid-winter revels.

The ceremony of carols was cancelled this year. Exhalations are dangerous, and the congregation is elderly. Another plan, to gather at nightfall round the Manor at a distance from each to hear carols over a loudspeaker, was cancelled a few days ago. The law permits a Christmas ceremony in the church, but no singing. So, Christmas day will be observed. Somehow, this does not pull out the organ stops. As befits mutants, it will be a muted observation, not a gathering of souls in joyous celebration. Yet the purpose of this restraint is Christian, to shelter the aged from a passing storm, in the hope of future and more glorious Christmases to come. Christmas Future is the prize.

The ghosts of Christmas Past must be our solace. Worse things happen at sea. Worse by far the plagues of old, reducing Europeans by a third, and leaving the dying without comfort, the dead unburied. The Spanish flu of 1919 also far, far worse. This present travail is trivial: seclusion with plenitude, though in the poverty of isolation.

Village Christmases over the last four decades take on a special meaning, though at the time they seemed like nothing special, merely an unrepresentatively large congregation, and no space in the sodden field car park, and mumbled mutterings about the odd hard-to-sing new carol. The golden memories are the faces and voices of villagers, their readings and singing, the hesitant children giving their first performances, the elderly summoning their forces in honour of the congregation, and giving their best in memory of their youth.

Christmas is the real metronome, the measure of who can still stand and repeat verities, the truest communion being the mince pies and mulled wine after the official utterances, the partial burying of hatchets, the census of which we had heard so much in the service now made real by the informal census of those present, their tweeds, bright ties, dresses, winter coats, cars, growing children and frail parents, and the feeling of something accomplished, the year survived and recorded, a ritual completed, now falling somewhere out of sight as softly as snow into history.

Merry Christmas!

• Category: Culture/Society 
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  1. dearieme says:

    Merry Christmas, doc, and thank you for your annual Christmas card – always a great pleasure to read.

    As I type my wife has just walked in with a good harvest of ivy and well-berry’d holly from the garden. We’ve left decorating late this year because we won’t be joined by the younger generations. Next year, eh?

  2. Merry Christmas!

    😀 Same to you.

  3. gay troll says:

    Merry Christmas to all.

  4. Merry Christmas and a greatly improved New Year to one and all!

  5. Dan Hayes says:

    Prof Thompson,

    Always look forward to your report on your Christmas congregation. As usual, I was not disappointed.
    Thanks and a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  6. Merry Christmas. I look forward to your annual Christmas report. It reminds me to be grateful for the modern technology that allows me to receive it here on the Gulf Coast of Texas, all the way from England. Thank you.

  7. dearieme says:

    On a light-hearted note here’s another of my tenuous connections to famous people. Yesterday my wife remarked that at school she was taught English by the mother of Professor Chris Whitty.

    That’s a closer connection than my connection to the great jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, who was a fan of Holst, who taught my wife’s aunt to play the piano.

  8. dearieme says:

    I needed a “bloods” for testing. I didn’t want to visit the hospital so I phoned my GP’s practice. They didn’t want to do it and said I should use the drive-in service in a park-and-ride carpark. “You don’t even need to get out of your car”.

    So yesterday off we went. The phlebotomist was excellent, the procedure swift and smooth. Unfortunately we’d had to queue for two and a half hours to see her.

    There was one consolation for this absurd wait: entertainment had been laid on. Some kind soul had put out handfuls of food on the verge and six squirrels in a row were happily nibbling. As entertainment goes it was rather limited but better than much of the BBC’s output.

    Happy New Year, doc.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  9. @dearieme

    Sorry to hear of this incredible delay in seeing you. Despite all that, I hope you can have a very Happy New Year.

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