Yes, it’s my favourite time of year, and we’re about to celebrate my favourite story, ever.
It’s not that I have spectacular Christmas memories from growing up (although I did get a brilliant puppet theatre one year). Christmas was usually quiet in our house. I remember a typical Christmas afternoon when I was 16: dad was upstairs sleeping off lunch; mum (a nurse) was also upstairs sleeping after working a night shift at the hospital; my brother Doug. then about 13, was also sleeping – he’d been too excited to sleep the night before. And I was alone in the dark, watching Casablanca.
In other years when the family stayed awake, everyone generally read their new books in the afternoon.
Not exactly a wild party, or even a deeply religious occasion. But the thing about my Christmases growing up is that there was always lots of space to pause and to think (although obviously I longed for a crazy sociable whirlwind of a Christmas with hundreds of people and lots of games). Every Christmas Eve I went to midnight mass in the local Anglican church, generally with my little brother and my friends Jade & Howard. We would sit in the cold, listening to the story told all over again, and I was amazed every time.
I was single then, and my favourite moment of all was when I would get home in the early hours and sit alone in bed, thinking about the story, writing in my journal, and talking to God. There was always something in the story that seemed especially alive or important, and in the quiet and the dark, it all felt mysterious, wonderful, and possible. That God would do something as ludicrous as being born as a baby. And that this wild and beautiful story had something to do with me. Those moments felt alive with hope and kindness.
The year I got engaged I spent Christmas with my fiance’s family in Northern Ireland and it was a very different experience. For a start, nobody went to sleep in the daytime (actually, I think I might have nodded off…). It was wonderful – and as sociable as I had always wanted, full of kids and chaos. And because of that there was suddenly a lot less space to be on my own and reflect – I hadn’t thought for a moment that I would miss that, and I didn’t do anything to try to find that space. It was a very special Christmas, but I came home feeling like I’d missed something. Not because it wasn’t there, but because I hadn’t made space for it in my time and imagination. Somehow I’d lost hold of the story which was what made it all mean something more. And, short of returning to my single life and my parents’ house, I wondered what I could possibly do to hold onto the story more tightly…
I came home and did something a bit weird. I wrote some liturgy. It was just my way of trying to create moments in the day when everyone could come together and remember bits of the story and maybe even why they matter.
So, I offer it here as a Christmas gift, in case you’d like a way to enter into the story a bit more this year: