This past Christmas holiday our family had to depart from our normal traditions and rhythms as one member stepped into a new role and had additional responsibilities. Sebastian was to take on the full duties of being a chorister and this meant that the rest of the family were going to have to hang on for the ride. I wasn't sure how this was going to work. I mean he wasn't going to be home for our Christmas morning. We were going to have attend more church in a week's time than we have all year.
Now normally, the biggest challenge this would present for me is that I would actually have to change out of my pajamas on Christmas day. But since our daughter Abigail was born on Christmas Eve, we had the small challenge of a very excited soon to be 7 year old feeling like she was just as special as a chorister who needed to sing.
We dropped Sebastian back off at the boarding house on 20th December. I saved every tear until he had walked through the door and I had heard it latch. I thought my heart was breaking and I had one of those moments of doubt that all parents have when they second guess their judgment fearing they aren't doing what is best for their child. The reality of the situation is I was doing exactly what was best for Sebastian. It just didn't feel so great to me. It was really this idea of me needing him more than he needed me starting me in the face and I was struggling to reconcile that in my heart.
We attended 2 carol services during the week. One was sung just by the boy's which was fabulous because we rarely get to hear the boys sing without the lay clerks (men) accompanying them. The other carol service was for the community of Windsor Castle. That includes all the people who work and serve in the castle. This was nice because the various fractions each did their own reading during the service. So the Metropolitan Police and the armed forces were represented. The chapel was packed for both services.
During the week, the boys attended a number of parties hosted in their honour including one by the Governor of the Castle and another by the Dean. They performed at the City of London Club. They played LaserQuest and went to the cinema. Basically, they had a jolly old time and did a fair bit of singing (which is fun for them)!
I wanted to make the birthday celebration extra special since her brother couldn't be with us. But who really wants to go to a child's birthday party on Christmas Eve? Luckily, our friends rallied round us. 2 girls who Abigail consider to be her big sisters agreed to come round with their mother despite the inconvenience of the day. 1 of the sisters of another chorister who just happens to be about the same age as Abigail came along and even brought one of her cousins, also of a similar age. We had the perfect party for a perfect 7 year old.
We then hung out and tried to stay awake for our trip to midnight mass,which isn't exactly at midnight but close. This was unique because we got to go into the chapel whilst the choir was practising. We never get to see the choristers practise. Then the boys went out and the church filled up.
All the lights in the chapel were turned off. And magic happened. The chapel is truly an ancient historic building. Originally built in 1348, it is the final resting place of King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour amongst many others. Because it is part of our daily life, I sometimes take this place for granted. Doesn't everyone have an royal chapel in which to attend church?
But the lights have always been on. Or the light has always streamed through the glorious stain coloured glass. Never has it been dark. So dark.
From the front of the quire, a lone chorister's voice sang out the first verse of "In Royal David's City". You could have heard a pin drop. It was one of the sweetest and purest sounds I have ever heard.
The choristers then processed down the centre aisle and sang like angels to celebrate the birth of Jesus. There were not many dry eyes in the house. Everyone had goose bumps.
Back down at the school, all the choristers had bags of goodies waiting for them on their beds and then it was quick into the sack so Father Christmas could come and go before they had to rise at 8:30 for the morning Christmas service. Unfortunately, we had to get home and get Abigail into bed before Father Christmas could do his duty here. 7:30 came early for us and we were back at the school by 10.
After the morning matins we had Christmas lunch in the school dining hall. I must confess it was odd sharing this most intimate of family holidays with acquaintances and some strangers. But we were all in the same boat and we made the very best of it. Luckily, we had a great table of fun and funny people and we laughed a lot and drank a lot and just generally had a wonderful time.
At 3, it was time for our final trip up the 100 steps (which just for the record is 123 steps). I figure I actually lost weight over the holiday because I climbed those blooming steps so many times. For this service we were allowed back into the quire (which is where we normally sit for evensong but because of the Christmas crowds we had spent the week sitting in the nave). And to be honest, we were back to the staunch choir supporters. The crowds were gone. For the most part, it was the choir and the chorister's parents. And they sang just for us. And they sang beautifully. And my pride bubbled over and dribbled out of my eyes and down my cheeks.
And when our son walked down the steps with us for the last time of 2010, I reflected on what an amazing journey this has been for both him and us.
In February with a bit of good luck and a fair wind, Sebastian will be surpliced. He does have to complete an assessment. If he is successful at the final assessment it means he will transition from a novice to a full chorister. He will get to wear a white robe over his red cassock. He will get to wear a red tie (which only the 17 or so full chorister in the entire school wear). He will have a special tie when he leaves the school that he can wear in adulthood. Of course with all that, it means he will also board more. He will have the additional responsibilities of Sunday services which will mean he will now have to board on Saturday nights and we will only have him home from 1-4 on Sundays.
But this is what he has been working towards for the last 18 months. It is what he wants and he is darn good at it. I just can't believe the little man he is becoming. I am so proud.
When I dropped Sebastian off at boarding school Sunday night I asked him what was his favourite bit of the Christmas holiday. I wasn't surprised when he cited the Christmas stay over. Well, that's about the end of my guilt trip then.