It’s the seconds before the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols …
Although the journey home from our in-laws’ family ‘do’ on Christmas Eve is – as I wrote this time last year – a reliably exciting moment to savour, I’m reckoning that it is the moments before the beginning of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols are quite possibly the best moment during this crazy period of time. A moment of ecstasy, in fact.
It is as though 3pm on Christmas Eve – the time the carol service from Kings College, Cambridge goes out live on BBC Radio 4 – is the ultimate deadline. Everything has to be done by then. Presents bought, wrapped and positioned under the tree. The fridge stocked up. Shirts ironed. Special Christmas baths need to be had. The cats need to be fed. The bed made. Everything has to be perfect for the most perfect of celebrations.
3pm signals the beginning of the festivities proper (learning that the TV version of the service is actually pre-recorded in mid-December doesn’t affect my fascination).
Those final seconds – last year it was 45 – before the chorister ‘steps forward to sing the opening verse of Once in Royal David’s City’ are the most tantalising. Because as soon as the singing starts we’re all catapulted into a period of celebration where time is elastic. Days of the week seems like an redundant idea from Medieval times.
We’ll see each other at the other end of all this, we think as the those final seconds tick by. Will we be different at the end of the celebrations? How long will we manage to hang on to the warm fuzzy feeling which has descended upon us these past few days? Could we let those feelings bleed into our everyday life when the new year comes? Will we get our ultimate Christmas? Will it live up to the hype? Will our dreams come true? Have we covered every base in preparing for it? How did otherwise questioning, self-aware individuals allow themselves to succomb to a feeling difficult to quantify and impossible to determine the cause of.
And then the chorister steps forward. He starts to sing. It’s too late now.
:: The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is in HD Audio via the BBC Radio 4 website from 3pm on Christmas Eve
:: Catch the same service re-broadcast in HD Audio via the BBC Radio 3 website on Christmas Day afternoon.