Thinking of all those brave pledges to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, 2040, 2050, I came across this from W S Sebald:
“Combustion is the hidden principle behind every artefact we create. The making of a fish-hook, manufacture of a china cup, or production of a television programme, all depend on the same process of combustion. Like our bodies and like our desires, the machines we have devised are possessed of a heart which is slowly reduced to embers. From the earliest times, human civilization has been no more than a strange luminescence growing more intense by the hour, of which no one can say when it will begin to wane and when it will fade away.”
I’d not heard of this. It’s Gaelic for ‘women’s Christmas’, traditionally falling on the 6th January – the feast of the Epiphany – when, after working hard for others through the rest of the Christmas season, women had some time for themselves:
“In rural and small-town Catholic Ireland, especially, women would gather in each other’s homes or local pubs for a few stolen hours of gaiety while the men looked after the brood.
Speaking to the Times, Irish scholar Alan Titley remarked that the tradition was most common in the west of Ireland in a litany of different ways. “Most women in west Kerry would have raised five or six turkeys for sale at the Christmas market,” he said. “They kept the money – like egg money – and if there was anything left over after Christmas they spent it on themselves.”
I retired at the end of October after working for nearly 10 years as a funeral celebrant. It’s been one of the happiest periods of my working life – but, for lots of reasons, it felt the right time to stop.
My last professional role was a Christmas Memorial service that I’d committed to back in the summer. They are always very special occasions – a gathering of families served over the last year or two by a particular funeral director. Everyone who comes has lost someone and there is comfort in coming together, comfort in remembering.
There’s singing, a few prayers but the heart of the service is when we read out the names of everyone lost and everyone remembered and light candles for them. At Dan and Sarah’s they are arranged in the shape of a cross. Afterwards, in the late afternoon twilight they seem to shine ever more brightly.
I’m always asked to read something and this year – for my farewell – I chose Auld Lang Syne, saying:
There aren’t many poems or songs where you can safely say that, in a room like this, everyone has heard of and, probably, sung along to as well. But my reading today is one of them – it’s the old Scottish song – Auld Lang Syne – that is sung the world over on New Years’ Eve. I bet every one of us here has sung it, with our hearts full and our hands linked with our friends around us.
Strangely enough it doesn’t seem to matter that most of us don’t really know what the old Scottish words – Auld Lang Syne and all the rest – actually mean. Somehow, with the tune and the words together, we understand that the song is all about love and friendship and the need to remember all the times gone by, all those good times past.
That’s why I’ve chosen it for our service. At this special time of year, when the days have grown short and the evenings longer, we find ourselves thinking about times past – the good times and the friendships; the people we’ve loved. At this time of year the one’s we have lost also feel especially close.
I believe it’s important that we do this – because it’s when we take out a book of photos, share some memories, maybe light a candle or raise a glass to absent friends – or come to services like this one today – well, that’s when our loved ones draw close to us again. For me that is what saying or singing Auld Lang Syne is all about. I’m going to read it now. But before I begin can I ask you – if you wish – to take hold of the hand of the person sitting by you and, as I read the words, think about the times gone by, and all that your loved ones mean to you.
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
And surely you’ll buy your pint cup! and surely I’ll buy mine! And we’ll take a cup o’kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
We two have run about the slopes, and picked the daisies fine; But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since those times gone by.
We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine; But seas between us broad have roared since those times gone by.
And there’s a hand my trusty friend! And give us a hand o’thine! And we’ll drink a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, For auld lang syne. Robert Burns
For me, this time of year always carries the memory of – possibly – my favourite hymn. My only beef? Most church organists seem to take it at a canter when, surely, a more measured pace is needed. This version’s not bad though: