If there is one place I might choose to be this Christmas (it's December, we can say it now) apart from being at home, which I love, it would be Orkney, to see and hear the traditional service of Nine Lessons and Carols at St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall.
Having thought the tradition of those nine lessons and carols could only have emanated from King's College, Cambridge, I am pleasantly surprised to discover that it actually has its origins at Truro Cathedral in Cornwall, thought up in 1880 (according to Wikipaedia supposedly as a means of keeping the men out of the pubs on Christmas Eve.) The original service will be recreated this year in Truro on December 17th and available to see as a webcast soon afterwards.
But of all the cathedrals I have visited St Magnus has to be one of my favourites for its warmth, because it is actually very well-heated and the sandstone somehow doubles the effect, but I also love it for its atmosphere. I can only begin to imagine how it would resound to Hark the Herald Angels Sing at the end of the service.
But never mind, it's time for another Christmas tradition, the annual poem from Carol Ann Duffy, and if you have this collection you will most certainly want to add Bethlehem.
Note the way I magically placed the books outside St Magnus Cathedral in the snow.
"Bethlehem is normally a quiet little town on the edge of the desert. But tonight, as dusk falls, there is a sense of something special in the air. An inn packed with revellers, shepherds sprawled on the grass, animals in their stables: everything will be changed when a bright star bearing news arrives in the sky. Carol Ann Duffy’s evocative new poem will transport you to Bethlehem, capturing the sights, the sounds and the atmosphere of this ancient and magical place."
And transport it does...
'To the West,
the whispering prayer of olive groves;
incense of rosemary, cedar, pine, votive
on purpling air.
Everyone there who had to be there.'
Nor will the portents of what it is to come for this baby pass you by, cocks crowing three times, blood on pale palms, even a 'donkey's slow, deliberate hooves on the stones,' with its echoes of Palm Sunday.
But for now all is joy and celebration in the town, the 'moon stoops low to gape at the world,' and the night echoes to the 'small, raw cry of a new life.'
Even the animals join in the celebrations which can only mean one thing...please scroll down for gifts where Magnus is waiting...