Christmas started in a familiar way: in a garden centre in September. Christmas music was playing; Christmas decorations were on display; I felt grumpy.
This feeling returned in mid-November. A tasteless illuminated nativity set appeared in a nearby garden – Mary, Joseph, stable, manger, baby, shepherds, wise men, star – the full works. Post early for Christmas? This baby was certainly a delivery that arrived much to early!
In the last week or so there has been more familiar ‘normality’. Christmas letters arriving from friends that we haven’t seen much of this year, watching the BBC young chorister of the year, my accordion coming out for its Christmas airing…
Yet much about this Christmas is unfamiliar – no school nativity plays; no big church carol services to invite friends to or little carol services in care homes to share in; no large gatherings where Christmas jumpers are joyfully displayed and I feel more ‘Bah Humbug’ than ‘Ho, ho, ho’!
I return to familiar words and search for fresh, unfamiliar meaning. What does ‘The word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ or ‘peace, goodwill to all men’ mean to me today? And familiar carols: can I find new, relevant meaning in ‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight’ or ‘What can I give him, poor as I am?’
For many years I’ve been part of ‘Seekers and Dreamers’, an annual event at our local Seagull Theatre in which we celebrate and remember the Christmas message with the theatre community in songs and readings.
This year it was unfamiliar. There was no mulled wine, no mince pies, no gathering together in a warm, cheerful theatre. We recorded a shortened version that came ‘on line’ last night.
And yet it was the familiar story of tradition merged with truth that still resonates with us today, bringing faith, hope and love.