December joys and woes.
So here we are in December, with the full Christmas onslaught upon us. Or is it? This year there seems to be a depression that has settled over the whole country and the usual festivities have taken on a drab and tawdry feel. The street decorations are minimal and look sad and inadequate. Maybe it is time for the Councils just to forget about a few lights draped across the road and go for one good Christmas Tree instead. The shops don’t seem very full, maybe due to financial shortages, or the sudden freezing weather. Even the Christmas music is terrible with endless piped renderings through the supermarkets of “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” – in my opinion two of the most irritating pieces of music ever written. So to be frank, there is not much Christmas joy about.
Please don’t think I have taken on Scrooge-like tendencies, because I haven’t. I have always loved Christmas and all that it entails – the music, the preparations, the giving, the family get-togethers etc. But this year there does seem to be an extra strain on everybody. There is the shadow of Brexit hanging over us with the fear of the unknown. There is the danger of having an unhinged American President, who with his latest decision over ‘Climate Change’ and ‘Jerusalem’, has added an extra worry to an uncertain world. The tragedy of Grenfell is still very present and there are daily terrible photos of wounded and suffering children from all over the world who appear on our television screens. So it is difficult to feel the usual Christmas joy. It is not that it has now become far too commercial, we also seem to have lost the true meaning of Christmas in our present situation.
Thirty years ago I spent Christmas Eve with the great singer Jessye Norman. During the evening I suggested to the composer Donald Fraser that I should write a carol for Jessye and he should set it to music. We did this and it was performed at midnight. Jessye was so delighted with her carol it became the theme for a whole Christmas recording, which was later filmed at Ely Cathedral. “This Christmastide, Jessye’s Carol” is now performed all over the world and is available on the Philip’s label in CD and DVD. The final line of each verse is “Truth and Love and Hope Abide, This Christmastide.” You can find the video of Jessye singing it in Ely Cathedral on YouTube. This carol still expresses to me everything I feel about Christmas and every time I hear it I have renewed hope. In the final verse Jessye sang ‘Peace’ instead of ‘Hope’ by mistake. It seemed so right we left it in.
So I wish anyone who reads this blog a Christmas full of truth and love and hope – and of course, peace.