Our new blog series invites members and friends of WIN to prepare a ‘festival diary’, exploring the history and significance of specific rituals or outlining the routine of religious celebrations, as a window into the lived experience of people of different faiths. This week’s author, Averil Pooten Watan, is co-Churchwarden at St Barnabas, Walthamstow. She is also co-chair of Forest Women’s Interfaith Network (WIN).
When my sister and I were little, we would eagerly await Christmas Day like it was the coming of Christ himself. The build up and excitement would start in school, with trips to church to learn about Christmas. Then eating chocolate pieces peeled out of chocolate store-bought Advent calendars. Attending midnight mass in a super cold church made it easy to stay awake; then finally — Christmas Day! The presents were always the highlight! Soon followed by Christmas specials on the TV. Then finally meeting up with our extended family members – to celebrate Christmas Day – inside the St Barnabas Foster church hall as it was the only venue big enough to cater over 50 people!
As I’ve grown older, I’ve been able to reflect a lot on that time as a child. What I now appreciate is that my parents – both of whom worked multiple jobs – took the time off on Christmas Day to spend it with us. That was what was most special for me as a child.
Now with my own children, we’ve developed new rituals as a family. For us, Christmas is centred with family but revolves around our church family, at St Barnabas (Church of England) in Walthamstow, and the local Queens Boundary community.
It starts with the lighting of the Advent candle, on the first Sunday, in church. As Christians we celebrate advent with the lighting of the Advent wreath during the four Sundays preceding Christmas. The candles on the Advent wreath symbolize hope, love, joy and peace. This is soon followed by our church Christmas Fayre, which we open to the whole community. Traditionally it’s where we serve mulled wine and minced pies. The third week has become our Christmas Nine Lessons and Carols event. Then on Christmas Eve we hold the children’s Crib service and midnight mass service, which often attracts our biggest church attendance for the whole year! This is all interspersed with Christmas dinner preparation throughout the day and Christmas Eve night, of course!
I can see the same anticipation in the eyes of my children – as to what will tomorrow will bring during the lead up to Christmas – and it fills me with so much joy to witness.
Christmas morning is filled with gift opening and tackling the mountains of wrapping strewn across the floor. But after all the gifts are opened, all the board games done, the 1000 piece puzzle started, my mind is called to centre on Christ, and for us, as Christians, the true meaning of Christmas. I centre on the joy and promise of new life that was given to the whole world through the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Despite the challenges we are facing, I look to this joy and find hope in the peace and love of Christ.
Merry Christmas, everyone!