December 4: Playing the organ on Christmas Eve is a ritual, duty and pleasure

James Marston takes his Christmas duties very seriously

James Marston takes his Christmas duties very seriously

James Marston, feature writer, shares his favourite Christmas memory.

There’s a moment when the shopping, the rushing, the wrapping, the drinking, the shouting and the crowds are done and at Icklingham at 11pm on Christmas Eve I put on my gloves and scarf and head out of the door.

A ritual, a duty and a pleasure, I play the organ for midnight mass at the ancient church of St James.

From the outside, the Victorian stained glass window glows as 21st century villagers follow in the footsteps their ancestors have trod on nights like this for a thousand years.

And for just one hour, on one night of the year, the church is lit up in the middle of the night and carols are sung and there is peace.


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Much is talked about the loss of the real meaning of Christmas, but this is just idle chatter amongst the terrifying and amazing truth so profoundly expressed by English poet John Betjeman, whose words pass through my mind just as I lift my hands to play the first chord:

No love that in a family dwells,

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No carolling in frosty air,

Nor all the steeple-shaking bells

Can with this single Truth compare -

That God was man in Palestine

And lives today in Bread and Wine

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