As a priest, I have seldom had Christmas Day as a holiday. Mostly, I have slaved over a hot altar – or two, or three! But when I was Archdeacon of the Diocese of Europe, working from the Diocesan Office in Westminster, I had no church of my own. So I found myself free on Christmas Eve to do what other people do, relax and enjoy myself with friends.
Twice, this involved dinner at Claridges with friends from the USA. They loved the place, though I thought it just a little bit schmaltzy – professional carol singers caroling away at the grand piano are just one stage better than Christmas muzak in elevators (which in those days I’d have called lifts). But the dinners were very good indeed.
Then we went on to Midnight Mass in St Mary’s, Bourne St, in Chelsea. I lived in the Presbytery of St Mary’s at that time (inheriting the saintly Canon Eric Mascall’s apartment) and so I said Mass and helped out there when I could. All I had to do at Midnight was sit in choir in cassock, cotta and mozetta, and remember to take my biretta off and on at the right places, laugh at the preacher’s witticisms (which were usually followed with sound doctrine and profound thoughts), and take one of the several chalices for Communion.
Christmas Eves in Edinburgh, Inverness, Stockholm, Gibraltar and Milan were quite different from that. And they were all different from each other. But they followed the same pattern that I will follow tonight and tomorrow: Confessions; Midnight Mass with a Procession and Blessing of the Crib; Mass of the Dawn tomorrow morning; High Mass of Christmas Day. Then an invitation to servers, musicians, and others to drinks in the Rectory. After this, either a Christmas meal which I am too tired to enjoy or, much better (and what I am doing tomorrow) a nice long nap and a festive meal in the evening.
Eves are a very good thing. Anticipation is half the pleasure. I wish all of you who read my Blog a very happy Eve and Christmas Day.