I think that priests probably have a different take on Christmas than human beings do; perhaps its partly to do with being blokes, and partly with not having children. But also there is the fact that a priest gets to Christmas utterly exhausted—we all get sick of people saying, right up to Christmas Eve ‘Just coming up to your busy time, Father’. In fact, the period of Christmas itself is bliss; very little indeed happens. It all happens in the weeks leading up.
I am very repelled also, by the commercialization of Christmas—a friend of mine calls it the Saturnalia, because to most people the fuss has very little to do with the birth of our Lord.
1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? Both mean misery.
2. Real tree or artificial? Real is so much nicer, but the needles and the disposal afterwards are not.
3. When do you put up the tree? Christmas Eve, ideally while listening to 9 Lessons and Carols.
4. When do you take the tree down? The day after the (real) Epiphany.
5. Do you like eggnog? Isn’t that some sort of American vice? I shouldn’t think I’d like it, though I like lots of other American things.
6. Favourite gift received as a child? It may be a false memory thing, but I can’t remember getting much other than clothes. I do remember a paint box and pad of paper, which I was scolded for using up within a couple of days. In my early twenties, I got an Amstrad Computer, which revolutionized my life. I think that has the award of the best Christmas present ever.
7. Do you have a Nativity scene? Oh yes; it’s much more important than a tree.
8. Hardest person to buy for? My mother. I’m now used to the fact that she will say that she loves whatever I get her, and then take it back to the shop at the first opportunity. The plus side of this is that it doesn’t matter very much what I get her, I suppose.
9. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? It’s a bit mean to think about actually disliking a gift.
10. Mail or email Christmas cards? Christmas cards are just misery. Worry about finding time to write them, worry about not having time to write them, guilt about therefore not sending many or any.
11. Favourite Christmas Movie? Anything that doesn’t have Robin Williams in it.
12. When do you start shopping for Christmas? Too late.
13. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? If you mean have I given it as a new gift to someone else, then no.
14. Favourite thing to eat at Christmas? Good sausage rolls. Good Christ Stollen.
15. Clear lights or colored on the tree? Clear and non-winking.
16. Favourite Christmas song? No contest; Adeste Fideles, in Latin.
17. Travel at Christmas or stay home? Since my father died, my mother comes to me for Christmas.
18. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer? No, and if I could, I wouldn’t.
19. Angel on the tree top or a star? Angel.
—Phew; is this thing never going to end?—
20. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Late Christmas afternoon, after the Queen’s speech.
21. Most annoying thing about this time of year? Exhaustion; Many fewer Confessions than Communions; Secular Christmas beginning somwhere in October and ending Christmas Day; St Stephen’s Day being called ‘Boxing Day’ (why?); Santa Claus and his bloody reindeer; BBC or Channel 4 taking the opportunity to futher debunk our faith.
22. Best thing about this time of year? That people make an effort to be kind. The three Masses. When I was a University Chaplain, I once was entirely alone for Christmas, and celebrated all three Masses, at their proper times, on my own, in what is now the Extraordinary form; I sang everything from the Liber, and even used incense. Maybe you think that is rather sad, but in fact it was somehow very special.