Christmas is not so O-come-all-ye-faith-filled these days. I note a great many llamas on the cards this year. Things change.
I don't mind the llamas, even the ones in Santa hats.
Over half a century ago, I was one of a generation of children who spent quite a lot of time in a church around December 25th. But we were not as faith-filled as you might think.
Children have a way of getting round the hugeness of religion, side-tracking it with their own take on things. Irreverence is a great asset when it comes to staying sane—though irreverence, too, is learned.
My maternal grandmother, who died when I was three, used to say (I know because my mother told me) 'There's an end to everything. Two to sausages.'
And my maternal grandfather, not famous for wit, allegedly said to my father at his wedding (it may have been part of a speech): 'This is the end to all your troubles, son. The front end.'
Then there was my close friend Jenny Green at school. She taught me a lot about subversion. At our school, everybody was issued with a hymn book. We had to make brown paper covers to keep them clean, and re-cover them annually. We carried those books dutifully to assembly each and every school-day morning. On the front cover most of us had written, as expected, HYMNS. But Jenny (oh how I admired her cleverness!) had written HERS.
Our favourite Christmas carols (all to be found inside HERS) were the ones we could subvert. Lord, how we need to subvert!
(It is one of my favourite features of poetry too: sending the reader off with one set of expectations only to find the poem has overturned every one.)
Our Father which art in heaven, Harold be thy name (one of my grandfathers was called Harold).
This very morning on the radio I heard a church choir singing one of our all-time favourites—'The angel Gabriel from Heaven came'. It has an undoubtedly beautiful tune, and lovely words too. But that's not why we liked it. We liked it because of the gravy.
The best kind of subversion is liberating because it undermines everything but nobody knows you're doing it. So shepherds washed their socks by night, and the Virgin Mary in that beautiful carol was not 'most highly favoured lady' but 'most highly flavoured gravy'.
On Christmas Day, we even got the gravy.