Although the last Christmassy thing I mentioned was on 29th December and to do with our carol service in the 21st, actual Christmas stuff did happen on the 24th-25th as well, but I hadn’t downloaded the photos from my phone by that point, and then Life (with an admixture of lethargy) got in the way of blogging.
Even when I’m employed at Christmas, Christmas Eve is always a good day. As I unfailingly use up all my annual leave by about mid-December, I always have to work over the Christmas/New Year period; however, as all the sites shut down over that time I end up in our main office, usually in Archive, sometimes in Processing. Most of the field team are on holiday, as are most of the office lot, so it’s really quiet and relaxed, and because it’s Christmas Eve no one really wants to be there so we all go home early. Plus there’s always cake and chocolate.
The rest of the day and most of the evening was spent wrapping presents (yes, I’m disorganised) and lazing around reading until just before 11pm, when I went to Midnight Mass. Despite the fact that the word ‘Mass’ is more Roman Catholic than anything else, it seems that all churches use the phrase Midnight Mass to describe their late-evening service on the 24th, from ours (Methodist), through low-church CofE, to the Catholic churches. My church doesn’t always do a Midnight Mass, and to be honest I don’t always go to a Midnight Mass every year. However, both these events occurred in 2014, so I had a choice of venues. I could go to the Methodist one, or I could go to the one at what would be my parish church if I was Church of England. I ended up going to the CofE one, as I like the interior, I know people who go there, and I like going to different denominations’ services, but mostly because I was going to the Methodist service the next day and felt like a change.
The service was as you’d expect – greeting, call to worship, a sermon and communion with some prayers and readings interspersed, and then just after midnight going round and saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to everyone else in the congregation. It’s always a slightly eerie experience, arriving in the dark at the end of the day, the church mostly lit by candlelight, and it’s a very quiet service overall – no hymns or music, and a smaller amount of people than usual. But it really makes it feel like Christmas; the sermon obviously talks about the changeover from Advent to the day we’ve been waiting for (from a religious and theological perspective), but the main realisation is actually saying Merry Christmas and hearing it said back to you, as well as having the middle candle of the Advent wreath lit for the first time as well.
And then there was Christmas Day itself. There were some presents, then breakfast, then church. The service tends to start slightly earlier than normal, so people have enough time to get back and finish making Christmas dinner happen, but it’s a lot more secular than the Midnight Mass. It’s a family service, so no Sunday School, and a lot of people bring in presents that they’ve already opened to show off. Not just the children either – after the greeting, call to worship, and first hymn, the minister asks ‘so, what did people get for Christmas?’, leading to about five minutes of kids showing off some of the things they got in their stockings, and everyone else showing off things like earrings, jumpers, and scarves, or naming things they couldn’t realistically bring with them – bicycles, kitchen mixers etc. I still remember Christmas of 2002 when I walked in with my new bow, having started archery that summer.
The high points, for me at least, were seeing the middle candle lit again, actually getting to sing the last verse of ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’, and the bit after the service where I get to see people that I quite often haven’t seen since the last Christmas Day. There are a load of us roughly the same age who came through Sunday School together and were part of our church’s MAYC (Methodist Association of Youth Clubs) group, and we’ve gone camping together and put on plays and all sorts. But a lot have moved away, or don’t come to church regularly any more (like me), so it’s great to be able to catch up.
The rest of the day was very relaxed, as it was just me and the parents this year, and there was a lot of food and cake.
For those of you unfamiliar with Advent wreaths, each of the four candles around the edge is lit in turn on the four Sundays in Advent. So there’s one candle on the first Sunday, two the next, and so on. The middle candle, which is always white, is only lit on Christmas Day and symbolises Christ as the Light of the World. The other four candles can have different meanings or associations, but the usual ones are the prophets, John the Baptist, Mary, and God’s people, often paired with hope, love, joy, and peace. Our outer candles are red, but blue candles are also used, and among Catholics and Anglicans, especially the High Church crowd, three of the candles are purple and one is pink, used on the third Sunday.