Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, St Thomas’ Mellor
A starlit night , a full moon, snow on the fields. The path through the church yard had been cleared of the ice. Candles behind the stained glass, black and ancient trees,bare of leaves, framed Marple’s lights below. Those trees some philistines would have removed as it spoils their view of the church.
Here amongst the more devout, there was no need to be a committed christian to enjoy the spirituality of the evening in this ancient church. There was a feeling of being in touch with the latitude of the congregation : neighbours , work colleagues, fellow revellers and faces simply familiar together with the longitude of history: a Norman font , some 900 years old supporting a simple nativity scene, the choir dress of surplice, ruff and cassock dating back to the 17th century and all around a sense of continuance.
The church was simply decorated with seasonal greenery and lit by candles. The service of nine lessons and carols was embroidered with short performances by the excellent choir and organist , delighting the listeners with sacred Christmas music by Handel , Mendelssohn and others pieces perhaps less well known.
The festival built through the readings the story of the nativity and interleaved those readings with carols for all and the seperate performances of the choir ending with everyone singing O Come all Ye Faithful and Hark The Herald Angels Sing…
…like some character in Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol , I was back some 50 years in another St Thomas, St Thomas’s Lower Crumpsall where I was a boy chorister singing the descant parts of those great Christmas hymns.
The festival was a simple but profound pleasure and a welcome relief from the constant salvos of fragrance advertisements and climaxes of the TV reality shows that for so many have become Christmas in the twenty first century.
Adeste fideles læti triumphantes,
Venite, venite in Bethlehem.
Natum videte Regem angelorum.