Tapping into the magic of Christmas

Although many of us have turned away from conventional religion, doctrine and dogma, we still search for something beyond our increasingly materialist, me-me-me, I want it and I want it NOW consumerist world. Counting myself among the questers, I was interested to read an article entitled Divine Inspiration in the Melbourne Age before Christmas. The article looked at how the decline in the church-going population has gone hand in hand with an increase in the numbers of those seeking a spiritual dimension to their lives.

People find spirituality or a sense of otherness in different ways, whether it’s through meditation, ritual, prayer, solitude, art, poetry, time spent in nature or listening to music. The important thing is to take time out from the everyday, the rushing around, the doing and constant communicating with everything and everybody. Although, of course, you can choose to tune into Twitter for spiritual snippets and words of wisdom if you so choose…

That’s why I love going to church on Christmas Day. For me it’s about reclaiming a sense of ritual and sacredness at Christmas, surely one of the most hijacked religious festivals in the world. It’s about celebrating friends, family and being alive, about giving thanks for all the things we take for granted and about expressing joy through song and music. Whether or not we ‘believe’ in the Christmas story, it is a wonderful metaphor for the magical and mystical.
Even though I get ribbed by my brother and his family for what is often my only appearance of the year at church (I can’t seem to explain to them that it’s not about doing the right thing but about savouring an hour of peace and reflection away from presents, chatter and food) I persist in going on Christmas morning.

And it’s not just my own family that find it surprising that I make my yuletide pilgrimage. Australia is even more secular than my native England and so I am very much in the minority. According to La Trobe-based researcher and writer on religion, Professor Tacey, “We are such radically secular culture, so materialist, that to talk about the transcendent is almost un-Australian.” Perhaps it’s just as well I have dual nationality…

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This year, however, I got caught up in the pre-Christmas rush and managed to Google the wrong church in the wrong country. Call it tiredness, scattiness, middle age madness or what you will, but I looked up St Peters Church in Brighton, England rather than St Andrew’s Church in Brighton, Australia. I was a bit surprised by the copy on the website: We are delighted to welcome you to this great adventure, an Anglican church planted from Holy Trinity Brompton in 2009 (HTB being in central London) – and by the fact that there was only one service at 10.30 a.m. when I was sure I had seen something about 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. in my local paper…

OK so I missed some of my favourite carols, but I did arrive in time to hear the choir sing In the Bleak Midwinter. As the sun streamed through the modern stained glass windows and glinted on the red baubles surrounding wreaths of holly, I was geographically many miles away from the ‘frosty wind made moan’ and ‘the snow on snow’ of the Northern Hemisphere, and yet at the same time I was immersed in the story, tradition and rituals I grew up with. I was in time for communion, for O little town of Bethlehem, for a glorious Hosanna anthem by the choir, for Silent Night and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. And I loved every minute of it. I came out feeling peaceful, uplifted, grateful, happy and joyful. I had simply allowed the Christmas story (and, let’s face it, without it there would be no Jingle Bells, no ‘rocking around’ the Christmas tree, no huge meals, presents, family gatherings and no holiday), to work its magic.

2 thoughts on “Tapping into the magic of Christmas

  1. I am also a spiritual cuckoo in my family’s secular nest! When my children were small I used to take them to the midnight carol service at Christ Church in Brunswick, to the bemusement of my parents and siblings. I loved the atmosphere of this historic church and wanted to share this sense of mystery and community with the boys.As they grew older, I took them and their cousins to the carol service at St Paul’s in the city, but sadly they have now all gone down the same path of material secularism. It seems that any type of reflection on life and the universe is seen as something only weird people do when there is food to eat, booze to drink and trivia to be talked.

    This year, I hosted family on both Christmas Eve and Christmas day, and played my favourite seasonal CD which begins with Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony Of Carols”. Interestingly, I found that they actually enjoyed the music and that it kick-started some more interesting conversations than we usually have around the table. Perhaps there is a pendulum swing happening….

    • Lovely to hear from a fellow spiritual cuckoo! And that Benjamin Britten’s ‘A Ceremony of Carols’ stimulated some interested conversations. I think many people have a hunger for something a little deeper than the material matters of everyday. Sounds like you had a good Christmas!

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