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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Rhythm of the year

One of the  things that every parent notices once their children start school is that the year  becomes much more obviously structured by the traditional festivals that for most of us long ago lost any deep significance. In a way I quite like it and for small children it is probably psychologically important to have the year marked by a succession of regular and familiar events. It's interesting though how these events can take on  very different shades of meaning.
Last year my daughter took part in her Kindergarten Harvest Festival service. It was held in one of Bamberg's Lutheran Churches - a rather splendid building that was completely reconstructed after the war. Inside a small group of parents huddled - German churches never seem to be heated - to watch the kids perform a harvest themed play. We sang a few hymns said a few prayers and the female priest - dressed in black with a splendid white ruff - preached a short sermon. One shouldn't overestimate the piety of the event; most of the parents, judging from an apparent lack of familiarity about how to behave in church,  looked as though they were far from stalwarts of the predominantly working class parish and were primarily interested in taking photographs and videos of their offspring. On the other hand the event was recognizably about thankfulness for the fruits of the earth.
This year we were back in England  and the school Harvest Festival was in an enormous Edwardian North Oxford barn of a church. Turning up five minutes before kick-off we were lucky to squeeze into the back row and those that came after us had to stand. I wonder if the church had ever been so full. We were then entertained for an hour by quite amazing orchestral and choral performances by the children. As one of the parents said to me afterward: "You had to keep reminding yourself that they are just junior school kids". Audience participation was limited to one quick verse of We Plough the Fields and Scatter which I think was quite enough for most of the parents. 
At one level what we saw was a spectacular achievement. The children had obviously been practicing hard and the performance standard was truly outstanding. In a sense, of course, this is what the parents wanted to see - the children - or in some cases their child - at centre stage. It would be wrong to be cynical or disapproving of that, but I can't escape the feeling that  even for this non-believer something important about  the meaning and significance of the festival had become obscured.

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