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.