Well, that’s it. All material activity done for the day. Final gifts bought for people whose sizes we should know by now but don’t. Final extra layer of food bought for those whose stomachs might feel the need for a third helping of soup, ham, turkey, brussel sprouts ice cream, mince pie. Final purchase of extra wine and beer for those who might feel the need of a last anaesthetic against the late Christmas-Day blues.
Which leaves just the spiritual activity of Midnight Mass which will, as usual, be held at 9.00 pm. Don’t laugh. The choice of 25 December as the date of Jesus’s birth is an arbitrary one in the first place, so whether we celebrate it three hours before the official start of the day when he might or might not have been born seems hardly worth sniggering at. I’d like to think that our church, like a lot of Catholic churches nowadays, pushed the time of the Mass back to 9.00 pm so parents wouldn’t have to go to bed at 1.30 a.m. and then have their stomachs bounced on around 6.15 a.m., but I suspect it’s linked instead to the old Catholic habit of chaps who wouldn’t normally darken a church door getting tanked up and fierce sentimental and rolling into church after the pubs shut to wipe back a tear and bawl in awful disharmony as the choir launches into ‘O Holy Night’, delivering the line ‘Fall to your knees!’ with particular conviction. Nine o’clock Mass filters out the boozers, who are replaced by sober people who wouldn’t normally darken a church door turning up, because …?
Optimistic or maybe simplistic Catholics will tell you it’s because, although the non-door-darkeners may have given up on God, He hasn’t given up on them, and so they put in their annual appearance. Less starry-eyed Catholics will tell you it’s because the non-door-darkeners kinda like a bit of tradition and sentiment, that the choir and the prayers and the crib and the bell, book and candles fit in nicely with the turkey and the plum pud and the presents and the board games and the snooze after the Christmas dinner. Who knows who’s right? Maybe it’s not completely important. Maybe what matters is that door-darkener and non-door-darkener, believer and non-believer, drunk and sober all get united once a year for one short period in a gossamer hope that maybe, given half a chance, humankind could do better. That’s an important hope to bring to birth, if only once a year.