There are many different traditions associated with Christmas and lots of ways of celebrating the festive season. One of the customs which emerged during the Middle Ages was that of the Yule Log. Today we often have a chocolate cake shaped like a log which represents the Yule Log. In Medieval times, they used a real chunk of wood. After the harvest, the workers on the great estates would go into the woods to find a great, thick tree trunk. Then they would cut it down and take the very widest part away with them. This was taken to the house of the estate owner and then soaked in water to make it as wet as possible.
On Christmas Eve, the log would be put in the fireplace by the workers who lit a small fire under it, ensuring the fire didn't go out. Because the log was huge and also very wet, it would take a long time for it to catch fire and burn. As long as part of the log had not yet burned, the workers didn't have to go back to their work. This would usually take about a week and give them a week's holiday!
We too have many Christmas traditions. Some are ones which we share, such as Carol services and present giving. Others will be special to our own family or our particular community. Christmas 2020 will be very different as we are unable to gather together in the way that we usually do. There is information elsewhere on the website about how we will be offering ways to worship this Christmas within the Covid-19 restrictions. But for many of us, this Christmas will be unlike any we have known before. There will be a sense of loss as we reflect on the changes to so much of our normal life, those who have lost jobs and all who have been bereaved. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming. We can also reflect on the ways that our communities have offered care for one another in these challenging times and the way the Christmas message of goodwill to all has been embodied in many acts of kindness.
The first Christmas was also a time of great uncertainty and upheaval. Joseph was summoned to register as part of the Roman Census and had to travel over 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. There was no transport other than a donkey and Mary was heavily pregnant. To make matters worse, by the time Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem all the rooms were taken. So the Christ child was born in an animal shelter, probably a cave under the house. Once King Herod found out about the new king from the Magi, visitors from the East, Mary and Joseph had to flee for their lives with their son and escape into Egypt where they stayed until Herod died. It was not an ideal start in life for the baby who the angel told Mary was to be the Son of God.
Jesus said he came to bring light in the darkness and hope in troubled situations. As we prepare for a Christmas like no other our celebrations may be very different to usual. But the heart of Christmas remains the same. Jesus, God's Son came into the world to bring us into relationship with God. He came to show how much God cares for each one of us. He came to bring peace and hope. May you know that peace and hope this Christmas.
Wishing you every blessing for Christmas and the New Year,
Joy (Vicar of Eaton Bray with Edlesborough)
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About the Vicar's Letter
The Vicar's Letter has been appearing in the villages Focus magazine since August 2002.
The Rev. Peter Graham also used to publish The Vicar's Letter in the parish magazine of 1964. Please see the Vicar's Letter area for these.