Magazine article The Spectator

Infectious Joy

Magazine article The Spectator

Infectious Joy

Article excerpt

The bad news was broken to us by the parish magazine. Christmas Eve is a Sunday this year. So the vicar, who presides over three parishes and must spread himself over as many evensongs, will not be available for the carol service which is traditionally held on the village green. It seemed outrageous that Christianity should be allowed to get in the way of our Christmas festivities. But, on the first Sunday in Advent, Saint Giles more than made up for the seasonal errors and omissions. The children of the church, augmented by a couple of adults, presented a pageant of village history.

Two tinselled angels -- one silver and one gold -- acted like a Greek chorus, setting the scenes and commenting on the action. Some of it was pure invention.

There is absolutely no reason to believe that King Alfred's son, Edward, visited the village in AD 924 and urged our rude forefathers to resist the Vikings, succour the needy and build a church. But no one cared. We were all too entranced by the performances to concern ourselves with historical detail. There is something peculiarly endearing about children playing adults in period costume. It was not just the stars of the show who made us smile with gentle pleasure. The whole cast performed with an infectious joy.

The company was led to the finale by a boy of six or seven who carried a twinkling star on a pole. It was not his only appearance during the evening. Several times he had darted round the church with no purpose other than the expression of his exuberance. At the centre of the closing tableau, a Virgin Mary -- of about the star carrier's age -- sat absolutely still, clutching the plastic Infant Jesus. Even when votes of thanks were offered to the parent-producers and bouquets of flowers handed out, she did not move a muscle.

Because of such distractions, it was not until we arrived at 1890 that I realised that some of what I was watching was fiction. Then the discovery increased my admiration for the whole event. A note in the programme confessed that the battle between the Methodist and Church of England Sunday schools -- both claiming the same ground on which to enjoy their annual 'treat' -- had no 'local historical basis'. The scene, it explained, was 'borrowed from North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell'. As the young players fought the battle of the denominations, the more literary hearts in the audience swelled with pride at the erudition of our parochial church council Sunday school. Our church council? I do not usually regard the personal pronoun as appropriate to the relationship between Saint Giles and me. …

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