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Hallo again to all.

We've been feeling quite out of sorts this Christmastide, and we think that we finally understand why.

As you know, this year Christmas fell on a Sunday. The last time that happened was 1994, eleven years ago. None of us can even remember how we handled it back then. But we know that it feels different, hit harder, and disrupted our sense of balance much more.

Santa ClausWe believe that what happened to us is that our secular world and our liturgical world had a massive collision this year. Rather like a comet swooping down on a planet, but this one was no Kohoutec: it hit us hard. Even Christmas seemed abbreviated. The Feast of the Circumcision (more recently called the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, presumably as a result of tension with the secular world) pre-empted Christmas I, which changed the music and lectionary to something decidedly less festive. Epiphany has landed on a Friday night, causing a number of parishes to move their celebration of Twelfth Night* to the fourteenth night.**

Like us, you probably live in a world that is not overflowing with Out Christians, and you often need to balance your worship time with the time you must spend on worldly activities. Most of us earn a living at something that is unrelated to the church. And most of the clergy that we talk to tell us that the bulk of their time goes to tending to their flock, and not to the needs of their own faith.

Today we realised that we've been depending on a calendar artifact to balance our lives. Sunday has been our day to yield to our need for corporate worship, for confession and absolution, for substantial prayer, for making a joyful noise. Once upon a time we sang hymns on weekday evenings, perhaps playing the piano in accompaniment, but now that we think about it, we can't recall the last time we actually did that. We occasionally catch ourself humming a hymn tune while doing something else; that seems to be our inner self trying to tell us that it needs more worship time than we've been giving it. We're very fond of Compline, and say it often, but it's been a few years since we said Compline every day.

We haven't quite decoded the mechanics and timing of it yet, but Christmas falling on a Sunday created for us a direct conflict between the holy and the temporal. Eleven years ago the steady secularisation of Western society had not progressed nearly as far and there were fewer pressures on our worship time. This time around, with Christmas again falling on a Sunday, there were many more forces that we needed to resist in order to keep to our traditions of worship and prayer.

Valentine candiesWe're ready to cede Christmas to the merchants and gift-givers and hold our own Christmas celebration at Epiphany. Well, not really. It's up to us to keep the real meaning of the electronically-lighted angels and the holographic 'star in the East' on which merchants are now offering 50% discounts in order to make room for their valentine's day merchandise. Oops, we meant St Valentine's Day, didn't we?

Before you go, have a look at this essay by occasional AO columnist Edgar Wallace. Is it really even possible to separate the sacred and the profane? Surely much of the Islamic world thinks not.

See you next week, on Fourteenth Night. You can check to see if we're published yet right after the football game on the telly.

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Last updated: 1 January 2006

*Whether Epiphany is the 12th or 13th night depends entirely on how long you believe a night lasts. If you allow Twelfth Night to last until sunset the following day, they coincide.

**Our mathematician friends tell us that 14 is actually 12 when figured in base 8, but they also say that Halloween is the same as Christmas because 25(DEC)=31(OCT).

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