cathedral at night

The December rush around the shops, and that Slade song, make me feel Christmassy, but perhaps not in a good way.

The spirit of Christmas doesn’t truly make itself at home in my happy soul until I have heard some Christmas carols while in a suitably relaxed and receptive frame of mind. They have to be pretty professionally sung, too.

It’s not as easy as it should be to hear a good choir here in rural England. If I was in London this weekend I would take myself to whatever church was putting on a good show. Instead, I will tune into the radio during a quiet few moments, and hope the phone doesn’t disturb the calm of Silent Night.

I expect I’ll go to an ordinary church service on Christmas Eve or Day. For the record, I like to think of myself as a pious agnostic (I’ve borrowed this phrase). I value the surroundings of a church, and the institution’s role in our country’s history and culture, but cannot intellectually believe in the specifics of Christianity.

The British carol repertoire must include some of the best choral music, religious or secular, ever penned (in the western world at least). It’s as if the most gifted musical talents saved their best compositions for Christmas. From Holst (‘In the Bleak Midwinter’) to the lesser known Henry John Gauntlett (‘Once in Royal David’s City’) – like all the finest music, carols bear repeated listening.

My home county is immortalised in The Sussex Carol, which usually begins ‘On Christmas night all Christians sing…’ and is sung to a Vaughn Williams tune.