CHRISTMAS is a celebration. This is a time for children, adults and the older generation to join together in a spirit of joy and happiness. The exchange of gifts, the spread of delicious food, the whole sense of occasion, all play an important part in our annual festival.
But underneath the tinsel and trappings, the Santa figures and golden grottos, the fundamental reason for Christmas can get rather buried. The annual Edinburgh Nativity Carol Concert, held this year on Sunday, 2 December in St Andrew Square at 4pm, is an opportunity to combine the fun and joy with that real meaning.
Visit Tim Chalk’s much-loved Nativity Scene, specially commissioned and kindly donated by Sir Tom and Lady Farmer. Soak up some of the wonderful community solidarity along with 1,000 or more participants. Enjoy the Exile Gospel Choir and the St Peter’s Roman Catholic primary school choir as you join in all those familiar carols like O Come All Ye Faithful and Joy to the World.
Sir Tom recalls floating the idea of the nativity sculpture to Edinburgh Council. He says: “I was delighted when the council said yes to the idea. I think what we wanted to say to the people of Edinburgh was ‘we are so fortunate to live in this beautiful city, to have fairly prosperous and productive lives. Please enjoy yourselves, enjoy the company of friends and family, and remember that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ. Remember, too, those who are less fortunate and who may be poor or alone or feeling lost. Christ’s command was that we should love one another’.”
Sir Tom says we shouldn’t be coy about our Christianity. “This is a Christian country after all. We don’t need to hide it. We can embrace all of the world’s main religions – Moslem, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist – and Edinburgh Churches Together, which organises this event along with the council, encourage that all- inclusiveness.
“People of all nationalities and faiths come to this service. We welcome everyone. The world’s religions share the same common core of beliefs: to respect one another and to love God, however we perceive Him.”
Cardinal Keith O’Brien will lead the celebration of the birth of Christ alongside the timeless figurines of Chalk’s nativity. The rousing voices of the school and gospel choirs will join together the people of Edinburgh in their shared delight at the coming of the Saviour.
The Cardinal will bless the Nativity Scene before the children sing their familiar carol, Away in a Manger. Then come those lines from the Gospel of St Luke, read by Rev Helen Mee, Minister of Granton United Church, beginning: “In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered,” marking the start of Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem.
Rev Mitchell Bunting, from Edinburgh Churches Together, an ecumenical organisation that unites the seven Christian churches in the city, feels that civil and religious partnership is crucial. He says: “In the season of Advent, looking towards the coming of Christ, from whom all civil authorities derive their power, it is important to celebrate that relationship.
“In the ten years since the annual carol concert began, those relationships between the churches and civic society have held up. We understand diversity. What matters is community partnership. Shoppers will perhaps join us for a while. I don’t have any problem if people don’t want to refer to the religious aspects, as long as they allow us to do so and we hope they can enjoy the singing.”
Every mainstream Christian denomination is represented, emphasising the importance of the sharing of faiths. The Salvation Army will bring its unique and much-loved musical skills to the event.
ON THE day after the Nativity Carols, Monday 3 December, at 6.30pm, St Columba’s Hospice has its Light A Light Festival in Charlotte Square. The work of this charity, long supported by Sir Tom and Lady Farmer, also plays a crucial part in Christmas celebrations.
Sir Tom says: “On Sunday, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. On Monday, we celebrate the lives of loved ones who are approaching the end. That seems to me absolutely right. We can remember those we have loved and lost and give thanks.
“Also, we give thanks to the fantastic dedication and commitment shown by staff and volunteers at St Columba’s.
“The Hospice’s event has become an important date for me, a touchstone. I dedicate a light on the tree to those loved ones no longer with us and I find it immensely uplifting to be a part of such a vibrant, dynamic community celebration.”
Christmas is a time when we remember our loved ones whom we have lost. Approaching the end of life is never easy but knowing that St Columba’s is there has proven to be both a mental and physical comfort for those in that position.
“Light a Light prompts me to remember the faces, the friendship and the benefit the lives of whom I have loved and lost have brought to my life and the world,” says Sir Tom.
“About 2,000 people standing together, the choir singing carols – everyone sharing in the joy and tears that this unique event provokes.
“I shall be at the event again this year where I have the privilege of being the one to push the button to illuminate the lights on the Tree of Remembrance. I hope that as many people as possible will join us.”