Christmas is Coming Songs of Praise


Christmas is Coming

David Grant joins in the festive preparations on the Isle of Man and introduces some Manx carols and Advent hymns from the Cathedral of St German in Peel.


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Transcript


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'To celebrate the beginning of the festive season,

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'I've come to the Isle of Man in the middle of the northern Irish Sea.

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'I'm in Peel, on the west coast of island, where the Christian

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'message is said to have been brought by St Patrick.

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'Irish monks who followed in the sixth century

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'established a monastery here.'

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In fact, this place is crammed with thousands of years of Manx history,

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including the ruins of Peel's first cathedral.

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'But for this Advent Sunday, as the winter darkness draws in,

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'our congregation has gathered in the warmth and candlelit intimacy

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'of their present-day cathedral of St German in the centre of Peel.'

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'As festive preparations begin across the UK, I find out about some

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'distinctively Manx seasonal traditions,

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'meet a concert pianist who remembers her childhood in Soviet Russia

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'and a student looking forward to coming home for Christmas.'

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TINKLING

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'All sorts of emotions are stirred in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

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'The warmth of nostalgia, excitement and anticipation, perhaps sometimes

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'sadness at the thought of those no longer around to celebrate with us.

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'But whatever your own private feelings this Advent Sunday,

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'let's remember the joy to come in celebrating

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'the birth of Jesus as saviour of the world.'

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We begin with a favourite Advent Carol

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and also one of the oldest, written by an unknown hand in medieval times.

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Its haunting melody evokes a yearning for the light

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of Christ to break into a darkened world.

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MUSIC

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'The Isle of Man has its own distinctive culture,

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'its own government and also its own language.'

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Manx is a form of Gaelic which, for centuries, was spoken

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throughout the island, but the first writing in Manx was religious text.

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In the 18th century, a Manx Bible was published.

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At around that time, people began writing down verses that were

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traditionally sung in church on Christmas Eve.

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These were called carvals.

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'The word carval clearly comes from the English word carol.

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'But they aren't jolly hymns'

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primarily about the birth of Jesus and the Nativity.

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Carvals are more in the tradition of the Advent period

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and they look towards death and judgment. Some of the carvals

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'dwell quite heavily on the sufferings in hell that await

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'the unrepentant sinner'

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and they urge the listener to consider their life throughout

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the year, how they've behaved and how they can repair their life

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and repent for their sins.

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'They were intended to be chanted or sung without music initially.

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'None of the books contain any music, although some of the carvals

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'have become associated with particular traditional tunes.

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'All the carval books in the archive and in the collection

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'were written down by people who were actually collecting them

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'rather than writing them.'

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They commonly sign their name at the bottom of each carval.

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You have "John Bridson of Portabella, his book 1793"

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and a bit of a motto there, "When this you see, remember me."

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The carvals were traditionally performed on Christmas Eve,

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often after an earlier Christmas Eve service

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when in some churches, the clergy left the church.

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MAN SINGING

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'There was no electricity at the time so the church would be candlelit

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'and carval singers, mostly older men, would have their carvals prepared

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'and begin to recite them at the back of the church.'

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CHOIR JOINS SINGING

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'They represent such an outpouring of religious fervour.

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'If they're telling you about hell, they're really telling you about it.'

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A carval known as She Sho Yn Laa, which means This Is The Day,

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is atypical of the carvals because for one reason it's quite short,

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it has 12 verses and most of them have at least 30, sometimes 60.

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'And although it does bring in its usual warnings to repent

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'and to think of things, it is mostly concerned with Christ's birth

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'and that we should rejoice at this time of year.'

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She Sho Yn Laa - "This is the day, why should we not rejoice?"

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It goes on to say.

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Every year, the Isle of Man's Ronaldsway airport

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hosts a festival of trees in aid of Save The Children.

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Local companies, schools,

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organisations, businesses, shops...

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are invited to create exhibits that are loosely trees.

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They can use as much imagination as they choose.

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The Isle of Man airport is busy at Christmas,

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loads of family and friends having reunions.

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Something like 80,000 people walk through the airport

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during that six-week period.

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Every year, we think, "It can't be as good as last year."

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And every year, they come up with the most wonderful ideas.

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When Jesus was talking about the Good Samaritan,

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he was giving help to someone he didn't know.

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And that's what Save The Children's doing.

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We're helping people we don't know.

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This year, pupils at Fairfield Primary School in Douglas

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have been working hard at creating their tree.

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I think when children participate in this,

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they become very aware

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that although they may have problems in their lives, as all children do,

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other children have worse problems.

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It makes them think beyond themselves,

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beyond their "I Want" Christmas list

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and actually think, "Gosh, I'm quite lucky really."

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We have had so much variety of material

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which is transformed into these beautiful exhibits.

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And I quite often think that is what we're trying to do -

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transform the opportunities for children

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in some of the most impoverished areas of the world.

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ORGAN MUSIC

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Olga Stone came to the Isle of Man 15 years ago.

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She was the first person from the former Soviet Union

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to settle on the island.

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I was a bit concerned that having not seen anybody from Ukraine before,

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actually in the community,

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the local people might be a bit aware of my being different.

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However, I couldn't have wished for a more friendly welcome

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than I received. Trying to do something for the community,

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I started playing organ straightaway, which helped me to integrate a lot.

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Music obviously means a lot to you.

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I've wanted to be a concert pianist since I was five.

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And I went to music school in the Soviet Union,

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then I went to musical college in the Crimea, where I grew up.

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And then I went to the conservatory in Odessa.

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So, up to my coming to the Isle of Man, 15 years ago,

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it was the major part, I'd say, of my working life.

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How did you view Christmas?

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I didn't, because I was brought up as an atheist, in a way.

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Our religion was not very much celebrated

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and it wasn't openly allowed.

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We were celebrating Soviet holidays, things like Victory Day, for example.

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But then, when collapse of the Soviet Union came about,

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this huge revival of churches

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and the resurrection of this faith - that suddenly became acceptable.

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And you started understanding more what it's about

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and what important part it can play in people's lives

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and I came to it myself.

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Tell us a little bit about the music, the culture

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and the traditions of the Orthodox Church.

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The Orthodox Church has very strong singing tradition and, of course,

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there is no instrumental part to it, it's a cappella singing,

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which means you have this heavenly sound of well-balanced choir.

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A congregation seldom joins,

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and it has been like this throughout centuries.

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Congregation didn't join like it does in Britain,

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singing hymns and singing carols.

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We don't have Advent, in the same way.

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We have two Christmases at home because your Christmas comes first,

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but Orthodox Christmas comes later, on the 7th January.

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That means we have our Christmas tree probably longest on the island,

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as we keep it up until the 19th January.

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Orthodox religion is built on help.

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I do go to our churches when I am in Ukraine.

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I feel I need to put a candle for good hope,

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and need to see that I ask certain saints certain things.

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And that's what it means to me.

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I ask that there will be some good in the world.

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Not just in a sense that the whole world will become wonderful,

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but that good will prevail generally.

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That people will have good in their souls.

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Living on the Isle of Man,

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you're never more than six miles away from the lapping of the waves.

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Isn't that wonderful?

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It's a close-knit community with a unique way of life.

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Becky Bannister had to leave all this behind when, earlier this year,

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she headed off to the mainland to study Law at York University.

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This is probably one of the biggest years I've had in my life.

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I've flown the nest and I've moved on into an independent life.

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It's been great,

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but very daunting at the same time.

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This is the first time I've lived away from home.

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Just the pace of life here is so much faster.

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It's such a busy place here,

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so it's fun to get into the hustle and bustle of things.

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It's actually quite hard to reflect and feel homesick,

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looking back at the Isle of Man,

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because I'm so caught up in university life.

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But when I do think about it,

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there are certain aspects of the Isle of Man that I miss.

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Like the countryside and surroundings on the Isle of Man.

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One minute you can be at the beach

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and five minutes later, you can be in the middle of nowhere.

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Just that different variety of landscape, I miss that.

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Growing up there was such a privilege.

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Moving to university has been quite hard

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and my friends often asked me, "Why are you always calm?

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"Why you always happy? How do you cope with university life so well?"

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And I just say, "Well, it's my faith, to be honest."

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It's just carried me through.

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I don't how I would live without being a Christian now.

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It's embedded in my whole character and personality.

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As term comes to an end here at York,

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the Christmas cards are rolling in from all my housemates,

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so it's great to have some Christmas atmosphere

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with people that I've not experienced Christmas with before.

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So, I'm going to miss them over the three weeks I'm back at home.

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But, I'm certainly looking forward to going home and seeing my family.

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Writing Christmas cards to my family has been a big reflection for me

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and I have felt quite homesick while writing them,

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because I just want to get there now

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and talk to them about my whole university experience.

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Throughout Advent, I get this spiritual warmth,

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something to look forward to.

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It's a big birthday bash on Christmas Day, if you put it in simple terms,

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to celebrate this one, miraculous event.

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The weeks leading up to Christmas emphasise the fact

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that Christ's birthday isn't just about one day,

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it's about a whole season.

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And throughout that season, we're told that a star shone out

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to guide wise men on their long journey towards Bethlehem.

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Howard, can you tell me about the Star of Bethlehem?

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What was it and when did it appear?

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Well, that's a great question,

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because there are so many theories about what it could've been,

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and it's been researched by hundreds of thousands of people over history.

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Did it really happen?

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I say, yes, it was real.

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Would you think it was?

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In my belief, the Star of Bethlehem

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was what astronomers call a "grand conjunction"

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in the constellation of Pisces.

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A grand conjunction is when two planets come close together,

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three times in succession.

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Over, in this case, a period of six months in the year 7 BC.

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The wise men, I believe, saw this conjunction -

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the first conjunction - from far away in the East.

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They then travelled to Jerusalem.

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It took about three or four months to get there.

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Then the second conjunction occurred,

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then they journeyed from Jerusalem to Bethlehem

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to see the baby Jesus in the manger.

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And that takes us into the period of Advent

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and that's when the third and most spectacular conjunction took place.

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Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, in a manger and the kings arrived.

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How far away would that event have been seen?

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It would have been seen from all over the world.

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It would have been seen, for instance, from the Isle of Man.

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We do have fantastically clear skies in the Isle of Man,

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so, they would have seen this conjunction, I am certain.

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In ancient times, astronomy would've been really important.

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Why is it still important today?

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The simple answer to that question, it tells us where we're coming from.

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It tells us where we're going,

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it tells us everything about the universe in which we live.

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When the 27 people went to the moon

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on the Apollo missions all those years ago,

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and they first looked back at the planet Earth from space,

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they were absolutely amazed.

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We all were amazed, those pictures of Earth from space

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made us full of awe about the majesty of the Earth,

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and how it sits there in the inky blackness of space.

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That's what astronomy is about.

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It's about us, a species on the planet,

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who have got the amazing ability to explore,

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wonder and ask questions, and want to learn more.

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When you look at the universe and you look at the things within it,

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and we look at the planet, and you look at a tiny baby,

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or you look a flower, there's no way that has just come about by chance.

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Somebody...somewhere...something has created it.

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And, to me, that was God.

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Christ, the Sun Of Righteousness, shine upon you.

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Scatter the darkness from before your path

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and make you ready to meet him when he comes in glory.

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HE SPEAKS IN MANX

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ALL: Amen.

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Over the next four weeks, many of us will be preparing

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for present-giving and parties, or perhaps a family reunion.

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But that doesn't mean we can't remember the real meaning

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of the Christmas season, which is to celebrate

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not just the birth of Jesus, but to look forward to his returning.

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That's the subject of our final hymn, by Charles Wesley.

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More carols for Advent next week

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as Aled talks to singer and Radio 2 presenter, Paul Jones,

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about his remarkable career in music, his devout faith

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and why Christmas is so important to him.

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There are questions from his fans

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as well as some festive songs and favourite carols.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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