I’m not a particularly religious person. I was brought up an Anglican and went to church regularly right up until I went to university. And by regularly I mean every week. The reason for my doing so for most of that period was because I was in the church choir and for a time I was head chorister (ooh get me!) and I had a red ribbon (look it up) and everything… this means I wasn’t too bad… believe it or not.
Anyway… back to the point. Despite not being a religious person, and being unsure whether I consider myself a Christian these days or not (I won’t get into the politics of whys and wherefores now) I have found myself listening to Advent music the last couple of days. For those who are familiar and interested I’ll add a list of songs at the end of the blog but it goes along the lines of O Come O Come Emmanuel (which has been recorded by many popstars including Whitney Houston so if you’re not into the traditional version then check out some of the newer versions – it’s just such a beautiful song) etc. Now, I might not be a BBC Radio 3 or Classic FM listener (Aussie people – these are for the lovers of ‘classical’ or ‘serious’ (choral, orchestral, operatic etc) music), so it’s not particularly usual for me to tune into the choral stuff of my youth, but every now and then I do enjoy it, likely because it is something so deeply embedded in me that it brings a strange comfort to hear familiar hymns and carols.
Another reason I think I’ve been listening is because it’s too early to listen to Christmas music which I look forward to every year. The big kid in me tries to get out each Christmas, and yet for some reason is always sorely disappointed. The magic of Christmas as I knew it, as many of us probably did, no longer manages to ignite as it did when I was a little girl. Although I still manage those pre-Christmas tingles and goosebumps – I find them in putting up the tree, buying pressies, shivering in the cold, then getting into a warm house and heating up some mulled wine (if I was back in England – doesn’t work so well even at 18 degrees celsius) and in listening to Christmas music – modern, and traditional.
Yet, Christmas is never quite as magnificently thrilling as when you’re little is it? I believed in Father Christmas longer than any of my friends (it was even the subject of great debate and I used to get quite adamant about it!) and I can still remember feeling asthough I would burst with excitement on Christmas eve. Literally burst. I know lots of people get excited about Christmas, and a lot of people get excited about the presents. But presents weren’t it. For me, it was like Santa was some kind of celebrity, or in fact I suppose he was some kind of idolized figure. What could be more tremendous? – he was going to come to my house and I’d see a sign of him in the morning in the crumbs on the plate where the mince pies once were, and the leftover sherry in a crystal glass (only the best for St Nick). I still get really annoyed that he doesn’t actually exist. Yes, I’m weird.
Back when I was small, the excitement of Christmas was in the glittery advent calendars revealing some magic hidden element of the festive season behind each door (I didn’t have chocolate ones) and in the tiny, mystical lights of the pine tree glistening in the corner of your eye, and lighting up the lounge as if they themselves were going to be the guidance of Christmas to our household. I would love going to the bathroom in the night as the lights would shine their magic into the darkness, and I would get goosebumps of pure excitement. And it was in the smell of the tree and the log fire, satsumas (mandarins to those in Oz) and freshly cracked nuts.
And, of course, even then it was in the music – I used to have my own cassette tape (now I sound old) which was full of carols, and I would have it on loop. My dad and mum had a John Denver Christmas album called Rocky Mountain Christmas and we all loved it – the first track was called Aspenglow which has several beautiful opening bars of a gently strummed guitar joined by tinkling chimes and tiny bell sounds, like magic was being cast over our sitting room, and snow would start to gently fall at any moment. Whilst that song played, my dad would take me in his arms and slowly waltz me around the room. I think he did it year on year for several years… probably until I got too heavy. It’s still one of my most enchanting and treasured memories. You know, one of those memories where you’d love to re-live it, just once – to be that small, that innocent, that captivated by the season, and feel so tiny in your dad’s arms. Childhood certainly can be a very amazing thing!
I hope that one day, the enchanting, magical, take-your-breath away moments of my childhood will return a little in the Christmas times with my own children.
Yes, music makes a huge part of my pre-Christmas tingles, and to this day it still does. And that’s why, I think the singing/hearing of Advent hymns and then, in turn Christmas carols is still one of my guaranteed magic-working mechanisms!
The last few days I’ve been feeling a bit down, and frustratingly so. On Saturday I had a barbecue with my best friends in Australia and I felt truly spoilt and lucky to have some dear friends looking after me, celebrating with me when I have known them such a short time in the grand scheme of things. Behind that genuine gratitude and happiness I also felt a sadness because I cannot escape the feeling that something is missing. It just feels very strange and incomplete to be reaching a significant birthday without my loved ones from back in England. From that sad feeling, also stems a dejection I felt in the run up to last Christmas. I still haven’t quite got used to the warm Christmas – the lack of shivering cold, impending snow, warming mulled wine and Christmas pud.
Christmas movies and images of Christmas all revolve around the cold and the snow, in my mind. Hobgoblins in the moonlight, reindeer breathing steamy breath into the cold night air, and sleigh bells heard through the pine trees. The kid in me doesn’t want to give those up and I also find it even harder now to get those pre-Christmas tingles. And as much as I would not easily give up my lovely, balmy Aussie summer nowadays – it’s going to take me a while to get my head around it coinciding with Christmas. It’s just about adapting. But it’s also about the magic – as long there’s a way to find the magic then all will be fine.
Advent is from the Latin ‘Adventus’ which means ‘coming’ and conveys the coming of Christ traditionally. Advent is the exciting bit – the preparation, the making mince pies, drinking mulled wine with mates, wrapping presents, singing carols and trimming the tree. Advent is the time to work on the magic and where you are going to find it next. So, I’m getting in my advent early, the advent of my 30th, the advent of my tingly Christmas…
- O Come O Come Emmanuel
- Hodie Christus Natus Est
- I Look From Afar (Canticle)
- Lo! He Comes With Clouds Descending
- Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth
- I Wonder as I Wander