Reflections of Cathedral Christmas’

As we enter Advent it is a time for reflection as it marks the beginning of the new Church year.  We can, as Christmas draws near, become overwhelmed with simply just getting to the end of the work and school year, but as Dean Lawrence noted in his Reflection on Advent Sunday this is a special time of the Church’s year. “It focuses our hearts on the coming of God filling us with expectation and hope.”  

In a reflective mode this short article looks back on the last Christmases in our Cathedral in the Square all very much now part of our Cathedral’s social history and cultural heritage.   

Placing the Christmas tree in the Cathedral was always a special event.  It was a real pinus radiata in those days and getting it into the Cathedral required human strength as well as willpower. As you can see by the photographs of Christmas 2008 it was a real team effort! Once the tree was in and raised it took up most of the north transept with both its height and width. It was beautifully decorated by the volunteers and adored by the Christchurch community. Traditionally children and families from the Christchurch community visited the tree bringing gifts to be distributed to those in need at this time.  This tradition of a tree and bringing gifts to distribute continues at the Transitional Cathedral but breaking from tradition the tree is no longer a real one as fire safety requirements now preclude this. 

Christmas services in the Cathedral were permeated with a delicious smell of pine but at times mixed with other smells as animals joined the children’s service. Chris Oldham, the Cathedral Administrator, reflected on this. 

“Christmas at the old Cathedral was always busy and slightly chaotic. As well as the usual Christmas services, which went smoothly of course, there was the upheaval caused by the Fire Service erecting a large (real) Christmas Tree in the north transept.  It was always a struggle to get the tree in through doors that were too small and then securing it to roof beams that were too high.  Then it had to be decorated - with the use of long poles, ladders and the organ balcony! The Children’s Christmas service was always unpredictable, with the inclusion of live animals. Llamas, cattle, sheep, ponies and chickens, not generally known for being well-behaved or house trained.  There was always plenty of cleaning up to do - but the cathedral staff members’ gardens always benefitted!  The Christmas day was calm and peaceful by comparison!” 

This particular goat, which appears to be singing, joined us on a number of occasions, preferring to sit with the congregation.  It was extraordinarily well behaved although a little frightening when it turned to face you. Christmas 2010 it startled my then three year old granddaughter Matilda who was sitting behind it.  

The birth of Jesus was re-enacted with a nativity play and the holy couple and the baby Jesus were often played by the parents and baby of the baptism closest to Christmas. In 2009, Joseph and Mary were Anna and Gregory May with their baby son Tom who was baptised only a few months before.  

Christmas 2010 saw three glorious 3metre archangels (Gabriel, Michael and Raphael), made by artist Caroline Trevella, suspended in flight from the Cathedral roof beams. The three archangels represented consolation, comfort and hope. During Christmas 2011 the archangel Gabriel was suspended from a crane beside the Cathedral as a sign of hope for the people of Christchurch as the task of rebuilding the city began. 

We look forward to Christmas 2027 when we can celebrate being back in our loved Cathedral in the square and hearing our choir, the organ, the bells and our community participating together at Advent and through the Christmas cycle of services.