In a few minutes the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols will be broadcast live on Radio 4. Many talk of how this broadcast is the beginning of Christmas. It certainly marks a very special set of experiences for me every year.
Me and Significant Other will often battle over how much of the broadcast we listen to at home. In years gone I’m sure we’ve heard Once in Royal David’s City in the car as we drive to an annual family get-together in South London.
It’s a terribly special affair. Lots of familiar faces with warm smiles and easy laughs. There’s no dancing, nor any massively inflated stomachs, but this family Christmas Eve feast is the kind of event I imagine Dickens had in mind when he wrote about Fezziwig’s Ball in Christmas Carol.
The experience lingers as we drive home afterwards. I’m in the passenger seat staring out at the yellow light glowing from single windows in the flats and houses as they speed past. Ornate lights hang from high ceilings in some, in others single bulbs hang in cold, lonely bedsits. Christmas trees proudly sit centre stage in the bays of the period conversions. Tinsel hangs haphazardly across the netted windows high-rises and box flats.
I always look at those homes as we drive home and imagine the occupants having a similarly warm and fluffy experience I’ve just had visiting the family. I hope they do at any rate. Sadness momentarily passes over me when I consider the statistical possibility that some of those occupants won’t be feeling that same way. Maybe they’re on their own at Christmas. Maybe visitors have been and gone. Maybe Christmas is all over for them. Maybe it didn’t even start for them. I can’t imagine what that feeling is like.
This is the moment for me. Moments of silence as we move swiftly through the orange glow of south London’s roads. Excitement cut with gratitude and pure melancholy, offset by the promise of a cleansing start to a new year.
This journey is a moment to savour the warmth of Christmas because we know we can’t bottle it up and store it in a cupboard and that it will all feel just that little bit different on Christmas Day.