An Enduring Memory

snow on the trees (2)

We arrived in Aberdeen in mid-November in the late fifties.  To children brought up on a tiny Scottish island with a tinier population, it was an experience to shake the senses. Save for a twice weekly ferry bringing already stale bread and margarine, an out of date “daily” newspaper bound into a weeks’ edition, a hit and miss wireless set and limited telephone lines, we were isolated from  the rest of the world.  Now we were in a city with thousands of people. There were cars and busses, street lights, TV’s with moving pictures, restaurants and shops of all kinds stacked with toys and sweets that made our eyes jump from their sockets.  There was the constant noise of the trains in the nearby marshalling yard and the hum of traffic and people walking and cycling, moving to and from work. Amongst it all was an enduring memory: the Christmas Eve watch night service.

It was magical experience. Being allowed up so late was exciting in itself. Our normal journey to church would be the mile and half on foot, but on this occasion we were carried in a taxi and dropped off at the church with both doors swung open pouring golden light into the dark street and casting shadows from the great piles of snow at the side of the pavement. We slipped into the high polished pews squeezed close between the men in heavy winter coats and women in furs and hats and gazed in wonder at the twinkling lights in the enormous Christmas tree. As the service began, We were led in rousing carols by the minister directing, dancing and urging us on to greater strains from the bold and joyful  “O come all ye faithful” through the ballads of the shepherds and the wise men to the sweet and lyrical Scottish and Irish carols. From time to time a figure would appear from behind the tree to read from the timeless story and a soprano would sing in unaccompanied solo “In the bleak midwinter” with the startling our “God …heaven cannot hold thee” and then as it came close to the hour, the lights were switched off, one by one, and we were left in the soft light of the Christmas tree. Without words to look at we sang from memory: “Still the night”. It was when we came to repeating the final line of the second verse “Christ the Redeemer is here” it came to me in a way that is hard to describe or explain, but I knew it was true. He was.  Christ the Redeemer was here. To a young mind overwhelmed with the magic and beauty of it all and, as yet, ignorant of the twists and turns that life would so quickly throw our way, it was a moment when I truly believed. 50 plus years later, I still do. It was true then and it is true now.

We didn’t notice the less than subtle hand that reached out from behind the tree to press the Grundic tape recorder and allow the Christmas morning to be announced with the chimes from Big Ben. But it didn’t matter. We were singing our hearts out and, with our loudest voices, rising in crescendo on “Hark the herald …Glory to the new born King”

Crawford Mackenzie