I love Christmas, the decorating, gift buying and wrapping, as long as I pace myself. The traditions we have around food both from my English heritage and also traditions we have created ourselves as a family over the years. Although I am certainly not religious and have no desire to attend church I do miss the gatherings in the village center that we enjoyed as a family and community. Once it was dark we gathered to sing carols, most of the village would be there, from the very young to the very old. My school friends would be there and we would run around the village gardens playing while the adults chatted around us. Then came the awaited hush while the church minister led the group in a welcoming prayer and the singing began.
Perhaps it was my young age but the combination of the cold night air, the starry night, bright moon and the almost magical sound of voices united in joyous singing brought such a sense of love, belonging and community. I believe there is something very powerful in such moments of unity as we recognize that whatever our differences we are all so similar. We all share the same hopes and dreams for ourselves and families. Then there would be the bible reading, the story of the birth of Jesus. Again as a child this too was magical and held a fascination. I remember a large wooden manger that was set up outside with the various characters set up inside it along with cows and sheep, the wise men, shepherds etc.
The large star twinkled overhead. As children we were allowed to gather and kneel beside the manger as we sang "away in a manger" the voices young and old mingling together. I always felt safe and protected, surrounded by a caring community.
After the singing had subsided, a short prayer then minces pies made by various villagers were shared around along with a welcome hot chocolate. As the younger ones among us grew tired or the cold got too much, whichever came first we would start to wander home. We lived just a short ten minute walk away and walking back on a dark night with my parents beside me and the excitement of the season all felt good with the world.
I also looked forward to the evenings in the last few days before Christmas when we excitedly welcomed carol singers at our front door. I really don't remember if they were collecting money, often from the local choir they had powerful voices. The group were often invited in to have mince pies, a cup of tea or most often preferred a glass of sherry. They would be shown into our "best" living room where as children we were allowed into on this rare occasion as we were accompanied by adults although any food or drink items in young hands had to be enjoyed at the kitchen table.
I do miss hearing carols being sung, for me it goes with the season. At schools here in the United States no carol singing is allowed. While I can understand why I still feel that the kids are missing out. Perhaps some universal songs, I'm not sure which, that would help to connect us to each other and to something bigger. I was pleasantly surprised this past weekend while attending the Nutcracker ballet to see carol singers in the theater as we walked to our seats and again as we left. A lovely touch that made me feel very Christmassy.
However you celebrate the season what traditions if any did you share as a community?
Do you have memories that whatever the time of year stir that sense of community?
If so do you still participate in them today?