Virginia Barton

22 December 2013: O Happy Christmas!


22 December 2013


Whilst writing this, or most of it at least, I was listening to the Tallis Singers performing the 40-part motet by Thomas Tallis: Spem in Alium, followed by Michael Praetorius’s Mass for Christmas Day, a recording from Roskilde Cathedral with the Gabrieli Consort, conducted by Paul McCreesh.


I have them on a loop for present wrapping, cooking, ironing or whatever. Wondrous music to lift the soul and heart. Poor BH quietly gets out of earshot; his taste is operatic.

Like the music, the readings for Advent are full of expectation and joy, a joy that will for most of us be fulfilled this week. Bombarded as we are by the media, it’s impossible to cut off or ignore those whom we know full well will not be having a joyful Christmas, nor a peaceful one.


One feels utterly helpless in the face of the misery in our world. It seems that all we can do is to empty our pockets in so far as we are able, and take all those images of distress with us to the Crib. We can do so little; He can work wonders.

There is a lovely custom in Eastern Europe of laying a spare place setting at the Christmas Eve table. This place is for the stranger who may knock at the door. Symbolic perhaps of all those forgotten oldies spending yet another holiday alone; the neglected or abused children for whom Christmas brings no gift, only fear and violence; or the refugees huddled together by the scant warmth of a fire made of old shoes. All call silently for vengeance – or succour. Never before, it seems to me, have these wretched ones come so close to us; pressing against the glass wall that divides rich and poor.


By Christmas Day the children are sleepless with excitement, fractious, wriggly and hyper; their voices squeaky with anticipation. The teenager is surly; out late the night before, now dragged unwillingly to Mass where she/he just knows that Romeo/Juliet won’t make an appearance. The grown-ups are hollow eyed; Mum has over-shopped and is cooked out to the point of exhaustion; and knows she has forgotten Aunt Maud’s favorite chutney. The unfortunate Dad has a sick ache in his tum: it’s the prospect of all those bills coming home to roost in January; and what on earth has Beatrice/Benedict done to her/his hair?

But hey, it’s Christmas! And when the family arrive at church they DO remember what it’s all about. The children calm down, the teens cannot but smile, and Mum and Dad look at them proudly, and maybe hold hands secretly. (Mum cries a bit.) The carols and candles, friends, goodwill and joy all combine to soothe those worries away. True rejoicing comes as the familiar story unfolds: Christ was born for us, alleluia, alleluia!!




Happy Christmas and a joyful, peaceful New Year to you all, and grateful thanks to all those who write to and take part. Not least Mr Webmaster without whom not much of this could happen…


P.S. A reader sent me the 16th-century quote below, it’s lovely, and a beautiful seasonal paragraph to contemplate:


“There is nothing I can give you which you have not;
but there is much that, while I cannot give, you may take.
No heaven can come to us unless our minds find rest in it today.
Take heaven.

“No peace lies in the future which is not hidden
in the present instant.
Take peace.

“The gloom of the world is but a shadow;
behind it, yet within reach, is joy.
Take joy.

“And so, at this Christmas, I greet you with the trust
that for you, now and forever, the day is reborn
and the shadows fall away.
Take Christmas.”

Fra Giovanni, 1513





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