The tree is up in the halls dining room. 8 doors on the Cadbury’s advent calendar hang open, their contents mercilessly poached. A small stack of presents sits on top of the wardrobe (where their recipients won’t be able to catch a glimpse of them in a Skype call). All this can only mean one thing: it’s nearly Christmas! That’s right, only seventeen more days to go. It’s strange to think that this time next week, I’ll be sitting at home, 3 hours from where I am now, surrounded by a completely different set of people to those that I’ve spent the last 11 weeks with. It’s all very odd.
But this post is not a reflection on my first term at university (that will come later if I decide that it’s actually interesting), because this is a post about CHRISTMAS. I’m feeling rather Christmassy at the moment, but I suppose that’s to be expected after going to two carol services in the space of 3 days. In this post, I want to describe those two services to you in a little bit of detail, just to give you a bit of a flavour of what’s going on in the life of Ben as he enters his 19th Christmas on planet Earth.
The first carol service had a bit of a twist. It was in a pub. And not just any old pub, a converted Victorian music hall, to be exact. The tables and chairs were cleared from the middle to create space for around a hundred (I think) rowdy carollers to squash into, more were seated in booths along one wall, and even more squeezed into the upper floor galleries that looked down onto the rest of us.
Accompanied by a lone keyboard (or possibly a piano…I couldn’t see and I don’t know enough to be able to tell the sound apart) we launched into a selection of classic carols, from Away in a Manger to Good King Wenceslas. Let me tell you, the singing, on the whole, was not good. Furthermore, I am proud to admit that my own dreadful singing contributed marvellously to that rowdy cacophony. We could not be compared to an angelic choir (at least, not favourably). But let me tell you, it didn’t matter one jot how good or bad we all sounded, because everyone was singing at the top of their lungs and just having fun. I suspect the availability of beer and free mince pies also helped the general atmosphere of seasonal joviality. In many ways, this carol service in a pub encapsulated a large part of what Christmas is about: a group of people getting together, having fun and celebrating the birth of Christ.
The second carol service was more conventional in some ways, but it certainly had its quirks! This was the first of Trent Vineyard’s 3 weekend carol services and, being on the set up team, I had the chance to see it all from before the start to after the finish. I don’t know how many people were there, but I’d take a vague guess at four to six hundred, all seated in a gently curving arc around the stage, beneath a large number of intricate, handmade paper lights. The stage, literally, was set. The ensuing service was a triumph of the collision of modern technology and traditional Christmas celebration. The big, projected screens were used to show excellently made videos, there was a drama (Call the Midwife meets the nativity), a fantastic Christmas message (in which we were reminded that the whole reason Jesus was born was to die for all of us) and, of course, several rollicking carols. It might sound extreme, but the final Hark the Herald Angels sing sounded like it could have been played at a professional show. It was modernised and turbo-charged – perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it. The service was excellently put together and very slick, but it never lost that same communal, fun, Christmas feel that was present at the very different Beer and Carols that I talked about earlier.
What those two very different carol services show is that there are so many ways to enjoy Christmas with friends and to celebrate Jesus. From a small pub crammed with rowdy carollers, to the lights and sounds of Trent Vineyard’s awesome main service, Christmas was celebrated and the same Spirit was there. I’m now feeling suitably Christmassy and if I didn’t have the lingering taste of toothpaste in my mouth I’d be craving a mince pie right about now.