Happy Christmas!  For yes it is still Christmas – 12 days of unremitting joy, remember!

It has been a Christmas to remember here at rainy Falkirk. First there was the cough to end all coughs. That’s the cough that sounds like a 60-a-day old man has moved into your chest. Of course, being ciggy-free these days it is rather annoying to have a smoker’s cough but I’m told this is normal. The cough then developed into a bit of a cold and sore throat and I spent one service at least sounding like a cross between Eartha Kitt and Marlene Dietrich. Not that I’m one to dwell on my illnesses, as you know dear reader, but it has all been rather traumatic accompanied as it was by dreadful fatigue. But we soldiered on. The show must go on and adrenaline is a great medicine.

Then there was the deliciousness of the church. Last year we were inspired to put some fairy lights on the rood screen, and jolly nice it was too. In fact, we sent a small boy climbing up it to fix them but don’t tell the Health & Safety Officer. This year we have had some lovely purple voile drapes around the window behind the altar. I thought it added something to the Advent ambience but not everyone agreed. Sometimes silence can say it all. I was going to replace them with gold and white drapes for a bit of drama at Christmas but my head server looked at me witheringly when I suggested it, and muttered something darkly. I took that as a “not over my dead body”.  So instead I put some fairy lights round the window!  And draped the inside of the altar with purple velvet and put some twinkly lights in there too so that it looked like a starry night in Bethlehem for the background of the crib scene. Gorgeous! It fair took the breath away. And there were some tears when my little flock saw it. (I think they were good tears.) I was just a little concerned that it had a hint of Las Vegas about it, but I think we got away with it. Flashing lights would have been a step too far. Even I know that! (Photo to follow)

rubber duck nativityThe Christingle service was a great success with quite a few new visitors. (Hurrah for an up to date website!) The rubber duck nativity went down a treat and was probably the star of the show. They looked lovely bobbing around in the font but after a while we noticed that some of them began to tip over and looked like they were drowning which was not such a good look. The Virgin Mary Duck held out though and proudly floated upright till the end. Go girl!

The weather here in Falkirk has not been the best over the Christmas period. In fact it has been rather damp. This has led to water coming through into the utility room and flooding the floor. Really feel that this rectory should have come with a live-in plumber. I now have a hole in the ceiling and was told to do a raindance and watch what happens. Don’t you love 21st century plumbing techniques? However, it has proved that it is indeed rain water that is coming through and not burst pipes or leaky radiators. Cue the Roof Man. However, on a more interesting note we have discovered that there is a secret room in the Rectory. While outside looking at the roof and trying to figure out which bit was above the utility room we discovered an extra window with no corresponding room on the inside. So where is it?  A lovely mystery to ponder. You may hear more of this, dear reader. What could possibly be in the secret room?

I have had an idea for next Christmas, which I think shows a stroke of genius. You know how the police have been handing out clip-on bells for old ladies’ purses so that they know if they are being pickpocketed? They do have a sort of sleigh bell sound about them. So I’m thinking we could get a group of them together and make some Christmas music. Jingle Bells obviously. Ding dong merrily on high. The list is endless.

Mary and the Midwives

Mother Anne Dyer is doing another of her splendid art courses again. Mind you, they are at the busiest times of the year for clergy (Lent and Advent) but I’m determined to take time out to enjoy some visual stimuli.

This week we were looking at the journey to Bethlehem, midwives, heavenly hosts, ox and ass, and adoration of shepherds.

The one that stuck in my mind was by Janet McKenzie who is an American artist. I have cards of many of her paintings but can’t remember where I got them. She has done some amazing paintings of the holy family as Native Americans or black people.

This one is called Mary and the Midwives. Mary is not often shown in labour in art – because of that whole immaculate, virgin thing – but here she is holding her belly and the baby. She seems to me to be in her own world, focusing on the pain, on the moment. And the Holy Spirit hovers above her, keeping guard.  The midwives sit silently, praying? They are giving her space until they are needed. They look so beautiful, wise and serene. Love it. How about you?

marywithmidwives mackenzie

Christmass at Christ Church

A different church and a different Christmass. Every church has their own traditions, the way they always do things, the way they decorate the church to welcome in the baby Jesus. This church gives a whole new meaning to ‘candlelight’. For there is dark wood panelling all the way around the church, about 6 foot high. And the top ledge of this panelling was made to hold tea-lights (which as everyone who trained in Tisec knows is the true meaning of good liturgy). I think there were about 80 in all. They more than made up for the fact that the crib scene only holds the most important characters (M, J & BJ with limp wrist) and any other bystanders are long gone. White and silver stars and baubles completed the scene. (Photos to follow when I can find a decent photographer.)

We had children galore at the Christingle service where we did the orange thing and then acted out the nativity with finger puppets. Thanks to all who brought grandchildren along.They didn’t think much of my homemade Christingle (banana with torch attached by brown parcel tape and 2 drawing pins) and had to tell me why it was wrong. Silly me.

Midnight Mass was really quite glorious with candles and carols and incense galore. I’d put the whole service in a wee bookie and that seemed to go down well with regulars and visitors. Numbers weren’t too bad considering the snow and ice. Oh, and the popping of corks to accompany the last hymn seemed to go down rather well too!

I’d been told that Christmass Day was to be a ‘family service’ and so I planned to have the children act out the story with actions. Of course only a few teenagers turned up who didn’t look like they really wanted to leap up and shout ‘Follow that Star’ every time I mentioned the Magi. But the grown-ups did and we had a most hilarious retelling of the story with a star (flashing his torch on the Christmass tree), Mary (rocking a baby and saying Awww), Joseph (with stick waving dangerously shouting Oh HOly Night), Shepherd (waving arms and cooing ‘C’mon sheep), 3 wise men (leaping up and yelling ‘Follow that Star’), Angel/angels (waving their wings and saying ‘Peace’), and a host of hee-haws, baas, moos and clucks. I think it worked terribly well. And the leaping up and down kept us warm as the heating had gone off.

St Stephen’s Day was quieter because I think people had forgotten it was Sunday and that they were meant to go to church. But a good few faithful souls came to sing Good King Wenceslas and hear all about stoned deacons.

Today I am going to have a day off. Maybe tomorrow too. I shall listen to 2 new Christmass cds (Annie Lennox’s A Christmas Cornucopia and Voices by the Benedectine Nuns of Notre Dame de l’Annunciation who won Nun Idol) and shall read lots.

A Scottish crib

This morning saw the premier performance of the Nativity Play by our Junior Church. No photos I’m afraid, for Child Protection issues, but believe me it was a very moving experience. We had sound effects, parents in their jammies, Postman Pat, crazy shepherds chasing sheep, angels galore, and a most beautiful Mary and Joseph.  You can catch a repeat performance on Christmas eve at 4pm.

A few faithful volunteers stayed behind to decorate the crib and make it Scottish, following our theme this year of contextualising Christmas. Not all the gifts are in place yet, but if you look closely you will see a few Highland coos, Nessie, puffins, a neep, Irn Bru, shortbrea, Lees macaroon bars and Tunnocks teacakes. Forget the gold, incense and myrrh! We know what we like here in Scotland.

A Scottish Crib scene

A Scottish Crib scene

And if you look very closely in the front right corner you might even find a Scottish Caganer!  Following the Catalonian tradition of hiding a little man crouching down have a poo, to show that Christ’s birth affects all humanity, we have followed in that great tradition.  Here he is in glorious close-up…

Scottish caganer

Scottish caganer

Scottish Caganer (rear view)

Scottish Caganer (rear view)

I see I may have to touch up my paintwork for close-ups!

Bet you don’t see another like it!

The Caganer

This Advent we have been looking at Christmas preprations around the world. We discovered the joy of the Caganer found in Catalonian and other nativity scenes. The Caganer (translates as ‘pooper’) is a small figure hidden somewhere in the nativity crouching down doing a poo. I think it is all to do with the humanity of Christ. But what fun!

Catalonian caganer

Catalonian caganer

Now, Caganers are made to look like famous people.

Pope Benedict caganer

Pope Benedict caganer

Bush caganer

Bush caganer

We’re hoping to have one in our Nativity this year but I’m not telling who it will look like. You can always guess…

The marathon that was Advent 4

It all began at 8.30am with lower numbers than usual because so many folk had gone away for Christmas. I was a bit concerned, thinking we might have a very quiet Christmas.

However, I needn’t have worried because there was a great turn out at 10.30am for our Family Eucharist. The children did their first performance of the Nativity Play and guess who was Mary and Joseph? Well, if you know the Provincial Youth Network then you might recognise the guitar-playing Joseph.

We also did the Christingle thing but was a little disappointed that some worried granny blew the candle out straight away in case the pyromaniacs ran riot.

Then after the service some faithful souls stayed behind to transform the church from Advent to Christmas. The tree was assembled (no mean feat) and ecorated, the crib was given centre stage (see previous blog), the windows were decorated with candles and poinsettia (?sp), and the champagne was chilled. Then we had about an hour at home to rest before back again for the Crib Service, which was packed out with more visitors than regulars.

The second performance of the Nativity Play was much improved and the angels stole the show. Sorry I can’t show photos of that because of the Child Protection rules, but they were seriously cute. Then we played the Sweetie game amidst much hilarity. the grown-ups really threw themsleves into it. All followed by mulled wine and mince pies and they didn’t want to leave. So we were left with that dilemma of hanging around trying not to look like grumpy barmaids who just wanted to shout, “Have you not got homes to go to?”

Finally the last one left and we got the hoovers out – how did that straw manage to cover the whole church? Back home for a few hours this time to rest our weary limbs before heading back out again for the Midnight glories. I was a little bit anxious that something might go wrong. (Some of you may remember the Christmas of 2004 when I fell down the altar steps and split my head open requiring 8 staples.) We started in darkness with just the crib twinkling in the sanctuary. The Advent Wreath candle was lit and then horror of horrors… the acolytes’ candles wouldnt light. The wick had been burned down and they kept flooding. 3 verses in to the first hymn and they were still trying, bless them, when they should have been lighting all the congregation’s candles. So I set off and did it with my little candle, and soon they caught up.

There was one more disaster averted when I spotting a poster falling off the wall onto a host of tealights, but apart from that it all went swimmingly well. We had no organist for any of the services but the CDs worked very well and finally we got to sing some Christmas carols. Next time I think we should have someone sit at the organ and pretend to play!

What a high it was. Champagne followed and visitors were greeted with joy. I finally got home at after 2pm and couldn’t have slept if you had paid me. All in all we had over 200 people cross our threshold on Sunday which is no mean feat for our little church. The servers put their all in to it and I can’t thank them enough for all the hours they put in.

Christmas Day at 10.30am saw four faithfuls, and that included the pianist. I think we might review that in future! But we made a joyful noise. It is interesting how some churches have a great turnout on Christmas Eve but few on Christmas Day, while in other churches it is the other way round.

So, all in all, I think it was a great success. And I even managed to sleep through the Vicar of Dibley. Caught up with it last night and laughed like a drain. Now, if only a handsome man would turn up in our parish…? Och, on second thoughts, who’s got the time?!

Nativity

What a lovely Nativity we had last night at St P’s. Bruce stood in for me as God and made a jolly good job of it too. Harry was a hilarious inept angel. Paul was a masterful narrator. Gordon was the best donkey I’ve ever seen with a very scary bray.

But it was the children who stole the show. Mary and Joseph were humble and meek; the shepherds were adoring; the wise men were loud and commanding; and the angels who delivered the baby Jesus stole the show. Even if one of them did burst into tears at the enormity of it all. And the other fell off the step and I’m sure I heard God quip “Oh its a fallen angel!”

Thanks to Judy for producing the show and writing the hilarious script (in rhymne of course, this is Linlithgow after all!), and to John for doing the lighting. And I want a big star projected onto the wall of the sanctuary every week please!