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An Atheist in England during Christmas – Day 153

Leicester Square

Happy Solstice, everybody!  The sun rose here at 8:04 and will set at 15:53.  It all gets better from here! It’ll be nice to be heading towards the summer, with 16 + hours of daylight vs. the 8-ish we’re getting right now.

Not too many pictures to contribute today – I haven’t taken many, and there aren’t very many Christmassy ones on my camera.  So, I apologize, you’ll be getting mostly crappy phone pictures, taken for a friend back home who asked for lots of BBMs with pictures of Christmassy London.

At the V&A. I love this museum!

The kids are off school until January 7th – there’s a PD day on the Monday immediately after the two-week Christmas break (or, rather, an Inset Day, as they’re called here).   They’ve worked hard and have settled into the school system nicely.  The break is most welcome, both for them and for me.  We’re going to be taking a short trip to Edinburgh after Christmas.  I’m hoping for snow, though that doesn’t seem likely at this point.  I’ve heard they’ve had a lot of snow in Waterloo, back home, which makes me a little homesick.

Giant menorah and even gianter tree in Trafalgar Square.

Christmas is a big deal in Britain.  There are no holidays except for Bonfire Night all fall – there haven’t been any statutory holidays (ie. days off) since the Bank Holiday on the last weekend in August (no Labour Day and no Thanksgiving here).   Also, there being no pretense of a separation of Church and State here (the Queen is the head of the Church of England, after all), there’s no reason to hold back.  My children, enrolled in a public school, have gone to a Christmas service as part of the school day last week.  Vorlon was invited to go sing carols at a nursing home.  Zebula was invited to be part of the recorder ensemble playing at a carol service, which I attended with Vorlon, making it the first Christmas service I’ve attended since probably the mid-80’s.  Though calling it a service in this case is pretty loose – the word “god”, outside of the carols we sang, was mentioned exactly once, during the blessing the rector gave at the end.  Christmas is everywhere in school, especially for the last week, where they didn’t really do much of anything academic, and instead had parties and crafts and singing.

My own relationship with Christmas has changed a lot over the years.  My background is Roman Catholic.  Dr. Thingo’s is Jewish. We’re both atheists, and the kids re getting a very secular upbringing.  My family went to Christmas services until I was in my early teens.  Our approach to Christmas is still evolving, especially now that we have kids.  Now, I think of it more like this (thanks, Ruth, for posting this on Facebook!!) – a time during the darkest days of the year for hanging out with loved ones, eating delicious things, and taking a break from the regular day-to-day routine.  I’m not terribly comfortable with the pervasiveness of the commercialism of Christmas at home, and the pressures we are under to make the season ‘magical’ somehow, and the assumption that this is something everybody celebrates.

Leicester Square

So I’m surprised by my own reaction to how omnipresent Christmas is here:  I kind of like it.  It could be that, due to the lack of commercial television and radio, I’m not getting a whole lot of pressure to buy, buy, buy, though the same is true at home.  It could be the upcoming Doctor Who, QI, and Downton Abbey specials.  It could be that I think mulled wine and mince pie are two of the most delicious things I’ve ever had, especially when consumed together.  It could be that they love caroling here, both for its own sake and for charity (I have gone twice for charity, and twice as just a performance, with two different groups.  People were generous!  In one case, we were in a subway station in the busy business district of Canary Wharf, during rush hour.  Even though people were rushing to get home, a large number of them gave some change and/or stopped to listen!  I would have gone a third time, but I have a cold, and I’m all squeaky).  It could be because I’m just here as a tourist, and I know I won’t have to deal with it year after year and can just experience it as part of the adventure.  I would have been shocked and upset if the kids had been made to attend a Christian (or any other kind) of service as part of their school day in Waterloo.  But it’s just what they do here, and you can opt out.  Easily half the children in the kids’ school are not white, with a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, many of them non-Christian.  And the kids have Religious Education classes, but those seem more like a survey of world religions than the indoctrination-type classes I had as a kid, which seems like a good idea.

It could just be that I’m just mellowing out in my old age.

St. Margaret’s Church, setting up risers for the concert. I did help! But I took the picture first.

It’s been a busy December.  Our weekends have been taken up with performance.  In my case, I had a performance the first Sunday in December, in the beautiful church above.  I had auditioned for one of the solos in the Kodaly mass we sang, and was asked to do it, much to my surprise.  I managed to pull it off, without making a fool of myself, and the choir was great.  Zebula has had two performances every Saturday since December 7, and two more tomorrow – I expect she’ll sleep in until noon on Monday*.

Whatever you celebrate, or don’t, I hope you have a beautiful and cozy couple of weeks.  Enjoy the return of the light!

That’s a rose, blooming in December, in front of a Christmas tree.

* Grandparents, there was no photography allowed during the performance, so I have nothing to show you from Zebula’s performances.  Sorry!  The performance was really good, though!  There was a photographer during the dress rehearsal, so maybe there’s a shot somewhere with Zebula in it.  Other pictures for December, if you’re interested, can be found here.

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