Growing up Christmas Eve was an unusual day, there was endless amounts of cleaning and preparing food, decorations and gifts for Christmas Day even if we were not having Christmas at home.
The evening was laced with excitement of the possibilities of the day ahead and yet was a period to be endured if not survived.
My family attended a local church all year round, not just for Christmas and Easter. The church we attended was situated in close proximity to the local public hospital. As such as a group from the church would visit the hospital each Christmas Eve and sing carols. Floor by floor we would search endlessly for an available power point to plug in the portable Casio keyboard. The acoustic guitarist and carolers would gather around. Well those who were not chasing their kids up and down the stairwells.
Many of the singers would be either in an article of clothing resplendent with a Christmas motif or be wearing “fun” Christmassy earrings or would have strategically place a bit of tinsel – woven into a hair scrunchie was poplar. Others would come in their Sunday best. We were as geeky as it sounds. It was the cliché so often depicted in sitcoms at this time of year.
As if the patients were not already sick enough they now had to deal with a band of nerds bursting forth tunelessly with carols. Moving from floor to floor, ward to ward we ensured that no one was going to enjoy a silent night.
The singing on each floor concluded with “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”, generally after four or five carols. It was always the youth and children who would try to start singing “We Wish You A merry Christmas” after two or three songs to try and reduce the suffering of all involved. Occasionally it would stick and the adults would be shuffling back into the lifts before and of the halls and been decked with boughs of holly or before the patient suffering unbearable migraines came out of their room and decked one of us.
The evening of carols would always end in the secure mental health facility out the back. We would sing for the patients residing here before being given a piece of Christmas cake and a glass of cordial.
Growing up in the church I am used to some terrible cordial, usually with so little cordial added to the water that it looks and tastes more like dishwater rather than a sugary drink. But nothing quite compares to the cordial served by the hospital. The predominant flavour, regardless of the colour of the beverage was plastic. If a kitchen hand had come out to apologies explaining that they had in fact run out of cordial and had instead added food colouring to melted down disposable cups, then no-one would have been at all surprised.
And not just once, it was plastic flavour every year.
Having concluded the caroling, we all returned to church suitably proud of ourselves for the midnight mass –that in fact commenced well before midnight. This was a service to get to early because all of the twice a year Christians attended. More visitors attended on Christmas Eve than Christmas Day. Even though Jesus is meant to be the reason for the season no-one wants the religious obligations to interfere with their capitalist plans of sharing unfathomable amounts of gifts food and alcohol.
Christmas Eve services were always timed perfectly to finish right on midnight. They had to be. The same youth and children who tried to curtail the carol singing on each floor would boldly proclaim “Merry Christmas” right on the stroke of midnight.
Like a benediction it quickly drew the service to a close.
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