The Pontypridd Town Lights have been switched on. It's official. Christmas is coming.
Thanks again to the town council for putting a fifty foot tree outside St Catherine's (Christmas, it seems, is at St Catherine's; other churches are available) and for lighting it up so nicely. I love it every year, and am delighted that it has become a part of the town's festivities.
And yes, we are five weeks away (goodness, only five weeks) from C-Day itself, but life is already beginning to fill with Seasonal Joys. One of the schools that comes for their Christmas Concerts has lined up an extra rehearsal next week. We are hoping they will send some kids to take part in the Town Carol Service here on Dec 21st. And I spent part of tonight writing a carol for our choir for the TCS: a rollicking 6/8 Alleluya carol, with lots of 7ths and stuttered rhythms in it.
So, although mentally I always find it hard to quite focus on C-Day till after my birthday, thanks to Ponty Town Council for getting me in the mood. (Though Camillofan also helped - her reference the other day to Messiah made me order the new recording by the Sixteen, which should arrive in time to be a nice Christmassy birthday present to myself!)
Now. Where are those body/mass indicator struggling geese? I fancy going & snagging myself one...
(Later) Ooh, ooh - I just found one of my all time favourite Christmas Classics on YouTube! Sadly I can't embed it, so you'll just have to click here and go have a look. OK, you might realise from the band leaders introducing it why this band didn't last a long time (great music, not so great showmanship..? Perhaps they could have sold themselves more confidently?) but - get past that: this is Prokofiev at his best. Russian music as only Americans could play it.
And it always makes me think of Christmas.
I was once in Bethlehem, and the rest of the party were taken by our hosts to a Palestinian refugee camp. I refused to go. Not because I was taking a pro-Israel stance, but because I felt we were being sold half a complex story, and I didn't want one of my major emotional memories of that trip to be something I didn't know if I could trust.
So I went by myself to the Church of the Nativity. It was a Tuesday or a Wednesday, just after lunchtime. There were no crowds, except for a local party celebrating a wedding! A wedding in the Church of the Nativity. How lovely. I stood and watched for a while, then made my way over to the entrance to the crypt that is the accepted site of the stable where Jesus was born. No queues. No people at all. Just the steps down and that unadorned lightbulb hanging over the doorway.
So I went in.
And I sat there by myself. What a privilege. Just by myself in that place - a site that is always full of people jostling. I was there alone. For ages. Long enough to get this photo - and this meant resting my camera on a ledge and wandering back so I could be in the shot, after having just been there just enjoying being there. It struck me that this place was awful. I mean - you want it to be like a Christmas Card, all straw and animals and perfect. And it stinks of candle wax and oil and it's dark and we'd been before and seen people scrabble to the silver star on the floor under the altar that marks where Mary gave birth (honestly), and then then gather around the stone crib and sing "Away in a Manger" or "O Little Town". Old brass oil lamps hang above, which are filthy because they have to be cleaned only in a certain way which was prescribed hundreds of years ago...
And I thought, "How far from heaven is this." Which is when it made sense. How far from heaven is it? And isn't that the point? How far from heaven is my life? And didn't he come for me?
And I was almost in floods of tears, tears of gratitude, just as I stood there, alone.
When suddenly there was the most Christmassy sound. I couldn't place it. It was so Christmassy, so right, and yet so not what I expected - the connotations weren't working for some unfathomable reason. I looked around, trying to see what might be making this sound - and then from the top of the steps into the crypt appeared an enormously bearded Orthodox priest, waving a thurible full of incense, probably some part of the wedding ceremony. And I wanted to laugh out loud.
For the chains on the incense holder were going hell for leather, rattling against each other, and there was my Christmassy sound. No wonder I couldn't place it. It really wasn't something I expected in Bethlehem, on that afternoon almost exactly 17 years ago to this day.
Because for all the world, it sounded like sleighbells.
So I love that YouTube clip - it reminds me of the Stable; and I love all the sentimental trashy music we hear from now till December 26th. Because there is something in it which, no matter how far from heaven, is for me forever Bethlehem.