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’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house people were stubbing their toes on skirting boards, hitting their shins on chairs, colliding with tables and banging into walls. What a time to have a power cut!
“Just as well we got in a stock of candles,” said Helen.
“It’s just a pity they can’t power the telly, the video, the computer and the lights on the Christmas tree,“ said Tom.
Patrick and Rachel had thought it was exciting for five minutes, but now the novelty was beginning to wear off. Christmas Eve was the highlight of their entire year, the last day of the countdown, and this was no fun at all. Mum had phoned the electric company and they had told her it would be several hours before the supply was restored. That was a lifetime for a ten year-old and an eternity for a six year-old.
“I wonder if every house in the street has lost power?” said Tom. “I’ll just stick my head outside the door and have a look.”
The children perked up. Something to do at last. They raced to the door, almost knocking Tom over in their eagerness to be first out into the chilly December night.
It was just as Tom had feared. The entire street was in darkness. Not a street lamp shone, not a fairy light twinkled, and even the moon conspired to keep the blackout total, swathed as it was in impenetrable, inky cloud.
“Spoo-ky!” said Patrick. “Not one light anywhere!”
“Yes there is!” cried Rachel. “Look!”
Sure enough, a faint light was coming towards them, hovering a few feet above the ground.
“Looks like a case for Scooby-Doo!” smirked Tom.
“Dad! I’m scared!” cried Rachel as the light came even closer. Then it spoke to them.
“Huh?” said Patrick, momentarily confused. The light was now close enough for them to see the face of the boy carrying the lantern?”
“My mum bought it for me to carry in the lantern procession they’re having from the castle on New Year’s Eve. I thought I’d bring it round to church seeing as there’s a power cut.”
“So what ya gonna do instead then?” said Matthew. Patrick and Rachel looked expectantly at Tom.
“How should I know?” said Matthew.
“Good point,” said Patrick. “Would we be allowed in d’you think?” Tom shuffled about uncomfortably. He had a vague memory of clothes that felt like a straitjacket, bellowing priests wagging fingers and boring hymns.
“Could we bring candles?” asked Rachel.
“Yeah. Everyone else will be,” said Matthew. Tom could see he was not going to get out of this easily.
“What harm can it do if we go along?” said Helen, joining them on the doorstep. “I’ll get the candles and matches, you get the children’s coats.” Five minutes later, five figures approached the church door. A mellow golden glow greeted them as they marvelled at hundreds of flickering flames in the hands of the people inside.The place was packed.
“Like a pub on a Saturday afternoon,” said Tom wistfully.
“Only everyone’s sober!” laughed Helen.
“You’ll be sorry you didn’t bring earplugs as well as candles once those awful hymns start!” said Tom. Right on cue, a band of guitars started up. Children were blowing recorders, banging tambourines, shaking maracas and making noise as only children know how.
“I thought you had to be quiet in church,” said Tom.
“Dad! I want a tambourine!” wailed Rachel.
“I’m playing in the group with my friends,” said Matthew. “You can both play if you want.”
With whoops of delight, the children hurried to the front of the church and gleefully rattled through a box of battered instruments ’till they found something suitably loud. Tom and Helen managed to find a hymn book and were pleasantly surprised that they actually knew the tunes. All those comforting carols they had learnt at school gave them a nice warm feeling of belonging. They forgot for a moment that they had ever grown up and lost the wonder of Christmas when well-meaning adults stopped talking about love and started talking about sin. Even the priest was a surprise, cracking jokes and talking about football. He was shaking hands with everyone he could reach in the crowded church and inviting everyone back to the church hall for sherry and mince pies after the service.
“It was only going to be tea or coffee, but we can’t boil the kettles, so you’ll have to make do with booze or pop, I’m afraid!” he quipped. Everybody laughed. Laughter in church! Unheard of! All Tom’s preconceptions were fading away. You wern’t meant to enjoy yourself in church, surely?
The service finally ended, and Tom and Helen retrieved their children from the group.
“They’ve said we can play every Sunday if we want!” said Patrick.
“Can we Mum?” asked Rachel.
“Bang goes my lie-in,” groaned Tom.
“How come we never went to church at Christmas before?” Patrick asked.
“We never had a power cut before,” said Helen.
“Anyway, we were always too busy opening all our presents,” said Patrick. “After all, that is what Christmas is all about. Isn’t it?”