Friday 24 December 2010

'Twas the Night Before Christmas...

When we talked about doing a "Christmas in Transition" week, I really wanted to take the Christmas Eve slot. I’m a self-confessed sucker for Christmas, and, if Christmas is my favourite time of year, Christmas Eve is far and away my highlight of the season.

For me, Christmas is not about presents, or turkey, or drinking too much or watching old films on the telly, it’s about the anticipation, the mystery and the magic of Christmas Eve. Whether your preference is for the secular excitement of Santa Claus and his sackful of presents, the Christian sacredness of the birth of Jesus or the beautiful magic of a cold and silent winter’s night - or perhaps all three – it’s a night that is somehow special.

Sure, the Christmas season has become horribly commercialised, with every retailer desperate to make up their annual profits in one month. Sure, can be massively wasteful and stressful.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Because what I love the most is gloriously carbon-neutral and also free in money terms. Christmas Carols. The radio schedules are full of Christmas carols *, or best of all, you could sing them yourself. I’d be willing to bet that everyone knows the words to at least a couple of carols, even if they haven’t sung them since they were at school Now that I have kids myself, I’m lucky enough to have two little people always happy to sing carols with me, day or night. You could take away all the Christmas paraphernalia - “the ribbons, the wrappings… the tinsel, the trappings”** - and leave the carols and I’d be happy.

I love them all. But my favourite is Handel’s The Messiah. OK, it’s unashamedly Christian sacred music so won’t float everyone’s boat, but the music is sublime, and the words have a universal message that can transcend narrow religious interpretation. There are many versions of the Messiah, as Handel left no written instructions for how it was to be arranged, but in my favourite, powerfully sung by the massed voices of the Huddersfield Choral Society, it’s a call to arms to build a different kind of society, one based on peace, goodwill and justice for all.

And if that’s not the true meaning of Christmas, I don’t know what is.

* Two radio programmes I won’t be missing:
Christmas Eve at 18.45: Handel’s The Messiah
Christmas Day at 14.00: Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

** Quote from Dr Seuss' The Grinch that Stole Christmas (a great anti-consumerism Christmas fable!)

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