I’m an atheist who loves midnight mass – here’s why you should too
Even if you don’t believe in the man upstairs, the harmless, heartwarming ritual of midnight mass is the perfect way to kick off Christmas.
As I’ve made clear on these pages before, I don’t believe in God.
Or miracles, or the Holy Ghost. Or the power of prayer, or the resurrection of Jesus.
I do believe in Santa, obvs, but that’s quite different.
Anyway, I am quite partial to the odd church service.
Religion jives uneasily with my view of the universe and our place in it. But I happen to believe that any community coming together in a gorgeous old building, to share a bit of a singsong and some mild moral cajoling, is perfectly lovely, and something society could really do with more of.
Think about it: Why else, nowadays, do strangers get together, apart from to buy stuff, watch sports or get pissed?
And even if you can’t be bothered to drag yourself out of bed on a damp Sunday morning at any other point in the year, I heartily recommend you make the effort to swing by your local church this Christmas Eve.
Christmas is all about traditions. The mediocre telly. Tiresome parlour games. Needlessly expensive booze. Your older relatives’ offhand racism.
There’s room in your life for another tradition.
You needn’t even feign loyalty to your ‘local’ church. Chances are, there are a few in your town.
Do what I do – be shallow; pick the prettiest.
Inside, you’ll be welcomed by a kindly old lady, who will politely ignore your mulled-wine breath, hand you an endearingly poorly-typeset order of service, and invite you to take a seat.
All around you will be excited kids, friendly old people and lonely folks far from home, who crave the simple, comforting symbols and rhythms of an ancient rite.
You might expect the ‘regulars’ to be in a huff about all the once-a-year, fair-weather wastrels like you suddenly swamping the pews, but you couldn’t be more wrong.
Most people who regularly go to church are lovely.
When the service begins in earnest you’ll be charmed by the reassuring, gentle ordinariness of it all.
And if the interminable chat about bring-and-buy sales makes you switch off – that’s fair enough – allow your eyes drift to the vaulted ceiling, stained glass, or sturdy ironwork of the door.
That building has been there for yonks, quite probably centuries. So take comfort from the fact that people have been sat where you’ve sat on Christmas Eves during wars, depressions, unmentionable hardships.
Suddenly, your rotten in-laws, Trump, Brexit, and whatever other b****** you’ve been moaning about doesn’t seem such a burden.
Anyway, the whole thing lasts about an hour and a half, there are usually snacks, and at the end, you all say Merry Christmas to each other.
If you’re really lucky, you’ll get to sing a few recognisable carols.
The sweet strains of Silent Night rising into the incense-scented air from a merry bobble-hatted throng is as magical a Christmas spectacle as you’ll ever behold.
Or, I guess, you could stay in and watch Emmerdale.
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