I don’t like singing Christmas carols.
What I mean is I don’t like singing Christmas carols until it’s Christmas. I like to celebrate Christmas at Christmas and not back in the summer when the shops start us thinking of it, or even during Advent when the diaries of churches seem to demand Christmas comes early. And it’s not just about carols. When the children were small I would adhere to that good old pagan tradition of decorating a tree, but I wouldn’t do it until they’d gone to bed on Christmas Eve. Down they would come in the morning to find the tree all lit and adorned with shiny balls and tinsel. I always thought that that made our celebrations more special; the waiting, the expectancy and then the fulfilment. As they grew older the pressure to put the tree up earlier met with firm resistance on my part until they eventually took over the job and the tree went up when they wanted. They never got the tree up before my grandfather, though. I think he would have put his decorations up in August if he could have. He loved Christmas and maybe he’d have had it all year round if he could. But I’m sticking to my scrooge like attitude to the singing of carols outside the season – Advent is Advent and Christmas is Christmas. Nevertheless, even if I only want to sing carols at Christmas, I still want to celebrate Christmas all the year round. Every year some Christians get upset when people forget, they say, the true meaning of Christmas. Of course, we forget that there was a mid winter festival long before Christianity. We forget that the tree is a pre-Christian religious symbol. We forget that, as we did with holy wells, we Christianised something of the old religion. But when all’s said and done, Christmas is for Christians. What other people choose to do with the midwinter holiday is up to them; and if they’re not hurting others, I don’t much mind. In fact, I don’t mind at all.
But in the words of one of those pop songs we hear coming out of the shops’ music systems: I wish it could be Christmas every day. Well, not quite. I wish we could see Christmas every day. I wish we could see that every day God is being born among us; that every day the divine is breaking through into our reality; that every day our reality is merging into the divine. Followers of the old Celtic religion, before the coming of Christianity, sensed that the gap between the human and the divine was very thin at certain times and places, at the winter solstice and around wells for example. They saw in the changes of midwinter the return of the light, the promise of spring, the dawn of a new year and they celebrated that, saw the work of the divine in it, recognised the creative and sustaining urge in it. There is something of that awareness in these words of Cecil Taylor entitled, “The Shepherds’ Journey”:
“For us it was but a short journey
Down our familiar hill
Past landmarks we had always known.
We should not have been surprised by the angels –
We had always known their presence;
Known, especially at lambing,
And when the snows melt up in the hills
And new blades of green thrust upward.
God is born in every living thing –
This special babe was something we understood.
That God should choose this way
Lit up the dark with glory –
The silence of the stars bursting into song.
What was it, peace to those of goodwill?
Yes, for us it was a simple journey;
Only the wise have far to travel.”
I’m not sure about the last line, perhaps simplicity fails to see wonder as often as wisdom does. But how often we may fail, all of us, learned and simple, to see those thin places where the divine and human become one, better where we see the divine in the human and the human in the divine, and all the world caught up in God.
Isn’t that what Gerard Manly Hopkins speaks of in God’s Grandeur?
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”
Can we see Christmas everyday: the divine born in each minute, in each minute of yours and of mine? Can we see the divne born and bearing in each blade of grass and falling foot, in each sunrise, sunset, dayspring, nightfall; in each hand’s touch and song’s singing? Can we see it and glory in it, wonder at and revel in it? Can we treasure it and fail to measure it; and catch it up and give it away? Can we? Now, that would be something to celebrate any day of the year.