This month.....

Keeping Advent and Christmas 2020

As I write I have little idea what Advent and Christmas are really going to be like this year. There are so many unknows. Will we be in lockdown? Will we have a short respite from lockdown perhaps just for Christmas and the New Year? Will we have significant easing of the situation at the beginning of December? Where will we be?

In a time of significant uncertainty we still need to plan ahead. You will find elsewhere in the magazine ‘Opportunities for Worship’, the list of services that we have planned but please do check with the website and with our e-mailed Grapevine what is actually happening and if you are planning on attending a physical service please do e-mail whoever is looking after the bookings as even in our larger churches Covid secure seating is very limited.

We will be creating a range of online services too and if singing carols is as important to you, as it is to me, then please join in with these as we will not be able to sing carols together this year! Perhaps unhelpfully the government gave us special permission to sing one hymn and the National Anthem on Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day but those were exceptions. Corporate singing is still not allowed at the time of writing which is a great loss to someone like me who was brought up singing in church choirs.

At this time of year I often think of, and read, two John Betjeman Poems, “Advent 1955” and “Christmas”, published in 1954. If you don’t know then they are easily found on the Internet and worth a read.

Although both of the above poems were written in the decade before my birth, they both remind me of the Advents and Christmases of my childhood. Though I suspect that memory and reality might be rather different! All the same these two poems describe keeping Advent and Christmas in ways I would love to return to. But then it’s been said that people have always had a tendency to look back to the ‘golden days’ when everything was so much better than now. At any point in human history people have seen that golden era as being 50 years ago. Now that I am of an age to be able clearly remember back 50 years perhaps it’s natural that my golden era is somewhere in the early 1960’s?!

Of course the reality is that I cannot go back to how things were in my childhood and in my rose tinted view of those days I so easily remember the good and forget the things that were not so good which have improved. At this time of year, as we approach a New Year, we naturally look back and review the past year but before we get to New Year let’s think about how we are going to mark Advent and Christmas this year. Perhaps looking back to how we celebrated this time of the year in the past, rosy glow and all, might give us some ideas about how we might mark the season this year.

What are those things that you used to do in your ‘golden days’ to mark Advent and Christmas? How about revisiting some of those? Making paper chains out of newspaper and magazines comes to my mind but I’m certain you can think of many things that would be appropriate to you.

During Advent some of us are going to be working our way through “At Home in Advent” by Gordon Giles with daily reflections for each day through Advent to the feast of the Epiphany. You’ll probably need to order a copy online but do join us in reading 3 or 4 pages each day if you would like. You’ll find more details in this magazine.

Another resource that some of us will be following is “Comfort and Joy” resources following the shape of Nine Lessons and Carols produced by the Church of England. This material uses Carols as a theme for each day in the Christmas season. You can find more information about this on the Church of England’s website but we’ve also got some of the booklets which hopefully you will be able to pick up in church this month.

Most of us will have our own personal traditions as we keep Advent and Christmas. Over the last few years I’ve made a point of watching a couple of films sometime in Advent to help me get in the mood for Christmas. The first is one by my namesake “Love Actually”. Is that really a Christmas film? It’s set in the weeks leading up to Christmas but it’s not really a traditional Christmas film. All the same over the last few years I’ve made a point of watching it. “Love Actually” came out in 2003 (really that long ago!) so watching it couldn’t have been part of my Advent tradition before then!

Some good family friends have a tradition of watching “The Muppets Christmas Carol” leading up to Christmas and bought us a copy a few years ago. I didn’t watch it initially but the following Advent I broke it out of the cellophane and popped it into the DVD player, yes, I know I’m old fashioned still wanting the physical media! I’ve always enjoyed the Muppets but to be honest I wasn’t expecting too much of their version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ but I was very pleasantly surprised, it’s a very good presentation of Charles Dicken’s classic short story. “The Muppets Christmas Carol” came out in 1992 so for me that’s also a recent film.

As a child the Christmas films shown on TV were as relatively old as “The Muppets Christmas Carol” is for children today. I still enjoy those films when they are on such as “It’s a Wonderful Life”, predates me by 14 years, “Miracle on 34th Street”, also predates me by 14 years and “Holiday Inn” from which we get the song “White Christmas” which predates me by 19 years. Of course as they say other Black and White Christmas films are available.

Sorry I got a little distracted by film there. I guess the point is that this Advent and Christmas is going to be very different to what we have become used to. We are unlikely to be able to travel to see family and friends. Jane and I for the last 30 years, with few exceptions, have spent New Years eve with friends from Theological College, that’s not likely to happen this year. With only shopping for essentials being possible in November and social distancing being still very important in December Christmas shopping is going to be very difficult.

We are going to have to mark Advent and Christmas a little differently this year and perhaps in doing that we might find again a focus on the event that we celebrate. The birth of that child to a poor family far from home and without appropriate accommodation. Perhaps one tradition we might re visit, if we’ve lost it, is to read again that story; you’ll find it at the start of Matthew and Luke’s gospels and it won’t take more than 5 or 10 minutes to read the accounts. If you’re interested to see how Mark and John start their gospels in comparison then that won’t take you much longer.

Whatever situation we find ourselves in this Advent and Christmas, however different our keeping of these seasons will be I do hope and pray that we will have a really blessed Christmas and we might discover in a simpler celebration an enhanced experience of the seasons. Perhaps there will be personal traditions that we will start this year that we will carry into the future?

I’ve conducted a couple of weddings recently where the couples have really enjoyed a much simpler wedding with only 15 guests; perhaps that will be another cultural change that will certainly be a feature of weddings in 2021 but perhaps will refocus weddings into the future? But that’s for 2021.

Wishing a blessed and joyful Advent and Christmas.

Richard Curtis