Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘How about a Christmassy change to your post-service beverage mingling?’
Paul Kerensa on festive feasts
I wonder whether people loiter longer over their post-service beverages at this time of year. Surely, we crave the warmth. But instead of those biscuits, how about a Christmas change up? Mince pies might go down a treat. Apparently, the average Brit guzzles 27 a year. Given they’re hard to come by in most months, we’re cramming a lot into a small gap, and I don’t just mean the mouth.
Or go traditional: offer mince pies with real mincemeat. Alright, I tried one last year and, well, humbug to them. But yes, ye olde recipes included meat and even fish (avoid! Presuming you’d like your church attendees to come back…) The mince pie’s original shape was possibly the most Christian thing about Christmas food, resembling a crib or coffin. The theologically-minded saw both, but Cromwell’s Puritans just saw idol worship, so they banned Christmas entirely, which seems a bit of an over-reaction for a bit of pastry. Us enterprising Brits wouldn’t be deprived our sweet treats, so we made them circular, changed the name from ‘Christmas pies’ to ‘mince pies’, and eventually lost the meat. So actually, the ones in shops are probably your safest bet.
Or, consider offering a slice of Twelfth Night cake – though technically that’s for after Christmas Day, leading up to Epiphany. There’d be a hidden bean inside, like the sixpence in the Christmas pudding, to appoint a ‘King of the Bean’ in charge of any revelry. That said, I don’t know how much revelry you want at your late Sunday morning beverage mingling.
Best stop short of King Henry II’s after-dinner entertainment. He lured out of retirement a favourite jester, Roland the Farter, whose legendary ‘leap, whistle and fart’ routine was apparently a must watch. It’s an artform due a comeback – but probably not at your church.
Christmas celebrations clearly became rather wild over the years, but oddly that’s always been the case. December’s been party time since Norse Yule’s wintry shindigs, through Roman festivals and into medieval banquets. If you thought your Christmas dinner was large, in 1206, King John gave the Sheriff of Hampshire ten days to find 1,500 hens, 5,000 eggs, 20 cattle, 100 pigs and 100 sheep. The Sheriff of Wiltshire had to be roped in to source half a kilometre of linen tablecloth.
It’s easy to see how Christ can become lost in the mess of the modern Christmas. Perhaps we’ve added too many dishes to the table. We’ve lost a few extravagant ones too – from peacock pie, with its front and tail sticking out, to the boar’s head. The joint of ham remains, and most tables still have a few bores (if you couldn’t already tell, I’m one of them with all this festive trivia).
But remove these extra layers of wrapping, and the present in the manger is still there, with no gift receipt or expiry date. Easter may be more significant for Christians – that’s where the big stuff happens – but Christmas is the party that the world feels particularly able to join. There’s no leap of faith needed to acknowledge that humble birth of a great teacher. And when it comes to the question of Jesus’ true nature, maybe that’s when a visitor who came for Christmas decides if they want to stay for Easter.
Christmas is the beginning – of Jesus’ life, and perhaps of a journey, for some who don’t come to church year round.
So, whatever you’re serving, it doesn’t need to be warm, just warmly served.
That warmth of welcome and community is something we all crave. For some visitors, these Christmas treats could be just for starters.
Paul Kerensa is a comic writer, performer and broadcaster. He is also author of Hark! The Biography of Christmas (Lion Hudson, 2017)
This article was published in the December 2019/January 2020 edition of Reform