Jesus’s Birthday Cake

Is there anything more idiosyncratic, emotionally exhausting and downright hilarious as a Christmas spent with one’s family? Whether you still have a stocking, post-pubescence (affirmative, but downsized); whether the presents within the stocking are gift-wrapped or ‘naked’ (naked); whether you eat Christmas lunch, or Christmas dinner (somewhere in between); whether the Eastenders Christmas Special is a point of reference during the day (a household tradition, due to the matriarchal stronghold) – it’s a fact well known that every family does it differently.

For my mother, Christmas is the apex of her calendar. She DOMINATES, on the festive front. This year, 16 of us migrated to our familial home in north Scotland, as it is sadly soon to be sold. With my mother came the knitted nativity scene (I have blogged on this before. Knitted by my mother, it is nothing short of genius – the camels are a work of art); her collection of festive knitwear and family of flashing watches; the reindeer Aga covers; the snowflake strewn oven gloves, 16 synthetic Father Christmas hats (bought job lot on the North End Road) and a myriad of other Christmassy trinkets. In short, the same Essex Christmas was displaced 12 hours up north – impressive, really. What we didn’t anticipate was THE WORLD’S BEST CHURCH SERVICE. Seriously, I doubt you can beat it. Throw your churchy tales at me, for I remain smugly confident that our service was the best known to man.

In a tiny church, trembling in the severe gales (so extreme that they actually knocked my sister arse-over-tit) we doubled the tiny congregation merely on arrival. The vicar wore a kilt, nursed a casual cup of tea and was in possession of an awesome name ‘Rev DJ Cranshaw’ – the DJ part of which became surprisingly literal, as the service progressed. The doddery organist simply pressed play on a keyboard programmed to honky tonk disco mode, to accompany the raft of Caribbean hymns (yes, we were in the Northern Highlands and yes, we sung all of them woefully out of tune and inevitably, in a dodgy Caribbean accent – you try singing “he come from the glory” in crisp RP – since we had never heard of ANY of them).

My father, who has not attended a church service for many years, somewhat forgot the protocol of a religious service and started noisily taking snaps of my niece on his iPhone, when she pranced up the aisle to light the candles. After we had prayed for everyone with cancer and repeated “cancer cells, begone!” (an oddly specific/ maudlin address) we then sung Happy Birthday to Jesus (to the traditional tune of Happy Birthday) before EATING A PIECE OF HIS BIRTHDAY SPONGE CAKE. Actual sponge cake, with candles. For Jesus’s birthday. Once we had finished trilling “Happy Birthday dear Jeeeeee-sus” at The Best Church Service Known to Man, we tucked in to the cake, amidst inevitable guffaws. It was like a tea party. As a visiting Catholic, the hunk of buttercream icing was a sweet novelty compared to the sobre communion host.

Now that Christmas is officially over (Mum will be de-tinsling for months) details blur into one another: presents, food and Christmas TV. But one aspect stands out. We may have had to since spend a considerable amount of time persuading our father that no, church hasn’t been like that every year that he has been absent, but this brilliantly random, uplifting service will resonate with each of us for years to come and marked a befitting farewell to our home. So Happy Birthday, Jesus and a Happy New Year.

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