December is upon us and the ground outside is white. Not with snow - not yet this year, but with a thick hibernal frost. And with December comes Christmas. The baby is massively overexcited by the Christmas tree (mostly the opportunity to remove decorations and throw them on the floor repetitively). Our Christmas tree is quite pretty from the top down, to about two feet off the floor, where it has been stripped entirely of glittery ornaments by one over-enthusiastic toddler. The bottom third of our Christmas tree looks like it has been visited by a tiny Grinch.
I'm not the world's biggest fan of Christmas, but we tend to do it fairly low-key in our family. One gift each (apart from the baby, who will of course get horribly spoiled, being the only baby in the family) and a £10 limit. It removes a lot of the unnecessary stress around shopping and wrapping, and pretending to really love the singing socks you've just been handed, like a reluctant house-elf.
One thing I have done for the last few years (excepting last year when I was on maternity leave) is sing with the choir in the carol service at Canary Wharf. I love the choir. I've been singing in it now for about five years. Even when I left the company to whom the choir technically belongs, I still returned to sing. A lovely group of people.
But this year I wondered if perhaps I should retire from carol services. To give a bit of context, I wasn't feeling at my best. Extended vomiting and colds, stretching now for the best part of six weeks meant that I was physically (and mentally) a bit drained and wobbly. The other big problem that stopped me enjoying this particular service was my ever-increasing rampant atheism.
Now, don't get me wrong - I love a good opportunity for a bit of evangelical atheism, but if I'm honest, I'm not sure a carol service is the best place for that. It's a bit like going to a synagogue and offering round bacon sandwiches. But I find it hard to switch off.
The vicar came over to speak to us, "I am sure you will all be singing like angels today," she said.
Another lady (not one from my choir, but from one of the other firms' choirs) said, "Ah, but the angels were all men, weren't they?"
I couldn't help myself. "Plus they were a little bit imaginary."
She gave me a look and continued. "They all have men's names: Michael, Raphael, Gabriel..."
"... Lucifer," I added.
She said, "There's always a heckler, isn't there?" and walked away. And actually, for once, I did feel a bit guilty. Not for taking the piss out of a grown up who believes in fairies - that's par for the course. But probably doing it just before a carol service wasn't really fair. It's a bit like the difference between not actively lying to your child about Father Christmas, and making the effort to go to a Santa's Grotto and shouting out that it's just Dave from Loughton wearing a beard.
Having said that, I suffered through the (approximately) six lessons and carols. A lifetime (no exaggeration) of this, plus a very good verbal memory means I literally know all the words of said lessons and carols off by heart. And it irritates me that so much brain space is taken up with such guff (apart from the lyrics to It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, which are actually very nicely-written).
I have no problem with the great and good of Canary Wharf being rinsed for a bit of charity cash (which is very much what the services are about - and given its demographic, I believe they do extremely well out of it), but I just wish it wasn't in the name of something so unlikely. I have never yet made it to the 9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People, but it is very much on my list of things to do.
I think Christmas is absolutely a time for charity - for thinking about people in the depths of winter with no light at the end of the tunnel. I think it is a time for family. Hell, it can even be time for getting together and singing. But I would love to see that all happen without it needing to be to appease a being supposedly so great that it created the whole of earth... and yet so twattish that it needs to be endlessly praised - or else there will be dire consequences. I think we have all worked for someone like that. And I think we can all agree they are dicks. Easiest just to ignore them. Pretend they don't exist. (In this particular case - no pretence needed.)
So I may retire - not from the choir - but from the carol services. And instead put that time back into the family. At least for Christmas.