London’s Railway Stations At Christmas

Forget all that nonsense about saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” or inventing new names like “Winterval” to avoid using the beautiful and time-honoured name for this sacred season. Traditional Christmas activities are alive and well in Britain. At London’s railway stations, groups of carol singers, school choirs, and bandsmen from the Salvation Army bring glorious Christmas carols old and new, and everyone enjoys it.

A friend organises the singing of carols every year at London’s Victoria and Waterloo stations, with volunteers from her local church (St Joseph’s, Roehampton, in South London) and from among her friends and contacts. I love being part of the team, and it has become my job to conduct the group, which I do with gusto and enthusiasm to make up for my lack of formal musical training!

We always have some instrumentalists among the team – sometimes a priest brings his violin, there’s a girl with an accordion, we have children with bells, and nuns with a guitars. And we sing, and people come and join in, and gather round to enjoy it all, and drop coins into our collecting-boxes, and take photographs on their mobile phones, or hold up the latter to let friends listen in.

Official permission is needed, and Yvonne makes plans in January or February of each year to book our slot – there are lots of groups that want to sing, so you have to get in early. At one stage, the railway authorities got all nervous about health-and-safety and insisted that we had a fire extinguisher with us – Heaven alone knows why – but sanity seems to have returned of recent years and this daft requirement has been dropped.

We have carol-sheets and we sing “Hark the Herald Angels” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “We Three Kings” and all the old favourites. This year, people seemed especially to like the more reflective carols – we gave them “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Mary’s Boy-Child” and “Little Donkey” and these drew large crowds and even applause. We sing for two hours, always finish with a rousing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas!”

This year, I’m also taking groups carol-singing house-to-house in London, and doing some street-singing in our local suburban High Street with our parish, and singing at a local Home for the Elderly and afterwards in the neighbouring roads. Our parish teams up with other local churches of different denominations to distribute leaflets to every household with times of all the church services over the Christmas period.

Schools are still putting on Nativity plays – a new twist is that the big stores have discovered that parents are prepared to pay for quite expensive costumes for Mary and Joseph, shepherds or angels, and the press had a field day discussing this, and inviting contrasts with the recent past when everything was home-made from old sheets or towels and bits of string.

Churches distribute Christmas posters and urge us to display them in our windows – they depict the Nativity scene and carry the message: “CHRISTMAS JOY!” If Christians seize every opportunity to proclaim the great reality of Christmas, people will respond with a recognition that this is indeed what the season is all about. We should not be afraid, and we should tackle it all with good humour and common sense.