I like the build up to Christmas. I like the festive lights, nostalgic songs and the general atmosphere. I even enjoy the weather – the crisp, cold winter days. In Australia we had nine months of summer and three months of grim misery in a house that was designed to shed as much heat as possible. Plus, Christmas in the summer just felt wrong. Read more
For no reason other than because it’s Christmas, I’m going to post here one of my favourite Christmas poems, by a former Poet Laureate:
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
‘The church looks nice’ on Christmas Day.
Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says ‘Merry Christmas to you all’.
And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.
And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.
And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?
And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,
No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
For a long while my favourite Christmas carol was Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Apart from the rousing tune, I considered it to be one of the more theologically robust Christmas carols. That kind of thing has always been important to me, but I’ve mellowed a bit over the years. In the past I was so zealous that I even hesitated to sing the line ‘Veiled in flesh the Godhead see…’ because I thought that it flirted with the heresy of Docetism.
One song that didn’t ever get a look in was Little Drummer Boy. Adding a child with a drum to the nativity story didn’t seem to add anything, except bizarre anachronism and dubious collaborations between David Bowie and Bing Crosby. I could do without any of that.
A couple of years ago I was introduced to a version of the song that didn’t suck (by a guy called Sean Quigley) and as a result I actually started reflecting on the words, which I’d never really listened to before. I began to realise that in many ways this was the most Christocentric of all Christmas songs. While a lot of the thumping Christmas carols may have us declaring great (or possibly insipid and dubious) theological truths, Little Drummer Boy is a song about the personal response required by these truths. It’s like the difference between a poem about the majesty of the ocean, and a poem about swimming in the sea. It has become especially poignant as I have seen my book edge its way towards publication. “Shall I write for you?” I say, and the baby Jesus nods. Like the little boy in the song, what I bring may seem paltry compared to other gifts that are laid before him, but, just like the little boy, the passion of my gift is what really matters. ‘I write my best for him’ and he smiles. He likes it when we make him smile.