I was singing carols at Christmas (as you do) and reading the origins of some of them. I was surprised to find that only 'The 12 Days of Christmas' goes back to George Herbert's day, and nearly all the rest are basically Victorian.
At first I panicked and pitied poor old George not having a good time at all at Christmas, in his cold, damp home by the river (with a building site for a church opposite). However my heart was warmed when I read that, in his day, the celebrations were much the same as ours - turkey, kissing boughs (no need for mistletoe from Waitrose!), and no work from Christmas till 12 days after, until Plough Monday.
Of course such fun couldn’t last, and Oliver Cromwell, as well as introducing the standing army, also banned Christmas from 1642 to 1660. He says “'More mischief is that time committed than in all the year besides ... What dicing and carding, what eating and drinking, what banqueting and feasting is then used ... to the great dishonour of God and the impoverishing of the realm." Well, that’s your opinion, Oliver!
So to the carols themselves. I wanted to wait till after Christmas to point this out - many of them are about infant death. The heady mix of romanticism, baby Jesus, Jesus dying for us, all amidst a culture where only half of children made it to their first birthday in the cities, meant that the carols tried to redeem the loss. “Fit us for heaven to live with thee there”, “...and he leads his children on to the place where he is gone”. All trying to say that every life has meaning and purpose, and those babies are safe in heaven. Good pastoral stuff.
Finally, to a situation GH would have recognized - a Confirmation service in our Cathedral of teenagers and adults. This January we had 5 candidates from the parish confirmed, which is the greatest number since 1998 (and the time before that, was 1993 - and you have to go to the 80’s before it's regularly that large). I imagine Fugglestone-cum-Bemerton would have produced 1 or 2 a year from its 300 population, and then, as now, it was a great occasion and honour to go to the Cathedral and be prayed for by the Bishop.
I discovered that in the Medieval times, candidates were sometimes slapped in the face by the Bishop, as a way of deliverance and a mnemonic to aid memory of their vows! No such drama unfolded last Saturday - just the far more memorable and significant power of the Holy Spirit coming amongst us.
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