I’m currently sitting in front of an open fire feeling utterly stuffed, yet somehow still like I could cram something else into my mouth. It's funny the tricks that this date plays on your digestive system! The rest of the family are watching Doctor Who next door, which I've decided to give a miss this year. We’ve just watched some utterly embarrassing old family videos, including footage of me dancing the Charleston as a slightly gauche teenager.
We arrived in Thaxted at about 7pm last night and milled about for a few hours before heading off to Midnight Mass in the church. I don’t really know why I bother to go. I suppose it feels like a tradition, and the church is so beautiful inside, but it’s such a ghastly occasion, which, it seems, fewer and fewer people are attending each year. The choir attempt to sing some ghastly mass; nothing by anyone decent, just tuneless dirges which seem to be entirely lacking in structure. The order of service is the same every year. They simply recycle the programmes.
You’d think the vicar would see this as his ONE opportunity to attract a new congregation, but each year he gives the same sermon. He never mentions anything relevant, or relates Christianity to something tangible. This time we even had to say prayers for the bishops, and those who deliver the message of God to others. Do they really need our prayers? He then urged us to go and look at the ridiculously over-sized crib, so that we could “remember Jesus, and emerge from the church as better people...” No, you silly bastard, if you want us to emerge from the church as better people, encourage us to call in on our neighbours on the way home, perhaps making sure that elderly people on our street aren’t cold or lonely. If we can't do that, perhaps suggest that we're simply kinder to those we love, or appreciative to those who cook our Christmas turkeys. If nothing else, we should at least be encouraged to put an extra bit of effort into praying for world peace. I'm sick to the teeth of religion merely becoming about a selfish relationship between a person and God. If life is only about taking communian, having blessings and ticking simple boxes to make sure we’re okay in the next world, then we’re utterly lost in this one. I absolutely refuse to sign up to follow a God who is only interested in my whispering a quick prayer whilst kneeling in front of a ridiculous crib, where Joseph seems to be dressed in 1930s country casuals because they couldn’t find a more appropriate statue to represent him. Frankly, a garden gnome would have looked more appropriate.
If there is a God, he is watching us very carefully to see if we are living good lives on earth; and that can ONLY involve understanding others and spreading love regardless of a person's colour, sexual preference or gender. Christmas is an anagram of “crams shit” and that’s exactly what the vicar of Thaxted was doing!
We woke up this morning to a beautiful blue sky. There’s still deep snow all over the fields, so we took ourselves for a walk. I have seldom seen such glorious scenery. I have never known a more delightful Christmas day. The sun was casting long, blue shadows across the clean, white countryside. Curious animal tracks stretched across the fields and every building we passed was bathed in the most glorious treacly light. I stopped at one stage to take a photograph of three figures walking towards us, who had been silhouetted beautifully by the low sun and suddenly realised it was my friend from London, Alex, whose mother lives in Thaxted. It was a very pleasant surprise to see him.
The fields behind Thaxted
Christmas Day 1660 was a rather subdued occasion. I guess I was wrong to assume the death of Puritanism would immediately turn Christmas into an excuse to party. Pepys went to church... twice, and ate a shoulder of mutton and a chicken for lunch, but spent the evening on his own, playing the lute and reading a history book. No gifts. No dancing. I suppose at least he had the day off work, which possibly would not have been the case in 1659...