It was early November, and I was wandering through my local supermarket when my ears pricked up on hearing a rather unusual sound. I stopped in my tracks and gripped my shopping trolley a tad aggressively as I realised the tinny tune playing in the background was Mariah Carey's, “All I Want for Christmas is You”. I'm not sure what was more irritating... the fact that a Christmas song was playing in November, or that it was Mariah Carey.
Mariah Carey released that incredibly annoying song nearly 20 years ago and made an absolute fortune from it. But the appeal of a good Christmas song never seems to wane, apparently, because that festive ditty has earned her £455,000 this year, having sold more than one million copies in the UK, in the last month alone!! It seems George Michael and Shane MacGowan never need to work again either, as their respective festive songs, Wham's “Last Christmas” and the Pogues/Kirsty MacColl duet, “Fairytale of New York”, have also made them nearly half a million pounds each this Christmas. Hmm, maybe I need to write a catchy Christmas jingle instead of a blog!
Other than Christmas pop songs blaring out from every shop you step foot in, you also have the traditional carols, of course. Now I love a good carol and I also love a good sing-a-long, so what could be better than a traditional carol service? Several years ago, I went to the 'biggest and best' carol service in London, at St. Paul's Cathedral. I queued up for almost 2 hours and then cried off and on for the next hour because it was probably one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced. Candlelit throughout, the Cathedral simply looked extraordinary, warm twinkling light bouncing off every surface, elaborate flower arrangements trailing into the aisles, while the cherubic faces of the choirboys glowed as their voices reached exquisite levels, soaring though the aisles. Every time I tried to join in the carols I would get choked up, it was ridiculous. I think I managed to croak out the first verse of 'Once in Royal David's City' and then I pretty much gave up and listened. So, this year I thought I would go to a more low-key carol service, one without a choir or flowers or candles, just a simple service where I could sing as loud as I wanted and not get emotional.
I decided to go to a lunchtime service in a small church opposite the design studio where I was working in central London. I thought it would be full of local older residents but was amazed to see the church full of 20 and 30-somethings, people from offices I presumed, having decided that an hour of Christmas cheer was better than a sandwich in front of their computers! We were greeted by a very jovial vicar and his helpers, handing us glasses of mulled wine and mince pies, and even though there weren't any elaborate flower arrangements, candles or decorations, the convivial feeling made up for it. There were no hymn books but a very modern screen at the back of the church with all the words on, and everyone sang loudly and enthusiastically. I may have been singing a little too loudly because I would occasionally get bewildered glances from my neighbours. Or it may be because I was attempting the descant part of the songs, when my voice really isn't made for that kind of soprano.
It's an embarrassing admission. Usually young choirboys sings this part of the carol because, well, they are good at singing and their voices haven't broken yet, but from a very young age my sister and I have always attempted it as well. When we are in church together, we give each other a 'look' just before the last verse, challenging each other to sing the descant. Of course, as soon as one of us can't quite reach the high note, we get the giggles. So when the descant of all descants in the hymn, 'O Come, all ye Faithful', began playing at the lunchtime service, I immediately grinned to myself, knowing full well I was going to give the unbelievably difficult verse a go, and sod my neighbours. It started off well but then went rapidly downhill when I reached the fifth line beginning, 'Gloor-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ooory'. Using the word 'shrill' to describe the noise that came out of my mouth, is an understatement. It sounded like a cross between a screeching cat and that thing you do when you wet the rim of a wine glass and run your finger around it to make a noise. But I persevered. I kept my eyes forward and continued valiantly until the last note, aware but ignoring the nudges and muffled laughs beside me. It's Christmas dammit, and I was going to siiiiing!
If you are wondering what on earth I am going on about, I have attached a link to the Kings College Cambridge choirboys singing the hymn.
If you play the recording from the 2:14 minute mark, you will hear what it should sound like! Happy Christmas xx