Agog at a crux of presence

I think we need more festivals, not fewer.  One of the wonders of living in Canterbury is the practice of so many cycles and celebrations, in many traditions. Where else can you go to Evensong and then a Saturnalia just down the road? 

December Dusk

As the festival of Christmas has evolved, much of the celebrating has been pushed into Advent, and January can seem puritanically joyless.  Christmastide, though, really begins on Christmas Day and lasts twelve days, at least. I love this out-of-time period of festival upon festival.

We usually culminate Christmastide at home with a party for Twelfth Night and the perennial discussion of whether it should be on the 5th or 6th.  Another alternative is to carry on until Candlemas on the 2nd February. Certainly, you can leave the decorations up until then.

Here’s a poem for the Nativity by Les Murray, who died in April 2019.

He didn’t use the internet, nor email, and yet managed to keep the illegal copying of his poems to a minimum, so it’s a delight to see so many legitimately available on this website.

And this poem, its take on the Christmas story, its foregrounding of the more-than-human, and the image of hope in ‘putting the apple back’, moves me very much. 

Les was a great correspondent and especially loved to buy and send cards, a habit I share. I know it’s wasteful of resources and time, but then doesn’t that apply to much of our ephemeral human life?

25th December 2020, there’s a pall of loss across the world and heightened anxiety. At the same time, in the Northern hemisphere, the light is returning, there’s the Christmas story with its wonderful paradoxes, and the merry paraphernalia of the festive season.

And in the UK, Christmas plans are thwarted, there are floods and rising infection rates. At the same time, sunshine, a Brexit deal and the Bethlehem star visible at dusk. 

And in Kent, thousands sleep in their vehicles, but the Port of Dover has re-opened and there’s been incredible kindness from people feeding the marooned lorry drivers. 

Eduard and I cycled through a spookily empty city to Midnight Mass at eleventh-century St Mildred’s. Canterbury’s usually a hubbub of merriment and drunkenness on Christmas Eve as the pubs and restaurants empty, and people sing their way home.  We didn’t pass a soul going and only a couple coming back.

On a bright frosty Christmas morning, I went with my eighty-nine-year-old mum to the Eucharist in the Cathedral sung by the Cathedral Girls Choir. Their voices are the equivalent of sunshine sparkling on clear water. A tiny, ticketed congregation was safely islanded around the vast nave instead of the usual milling thousands.

And at home, me, husband, mum, stepson, and dog form a bubble. A Zoom with my sister and nieces, merry video clips from family and friends in the Netherlands and Turkey. Long drawn-out feasting, a mini concert of new arrangements for cello and saxophone, and an impromptu disco before the Christmas pudding.  Reading by the fire. Early night.