Below you can read several people's memories of the early years. This year saw 134 people join in the carol service at the Great Barn. The brand new 'Inn at Danes' provided some festive cheer and raised £200 for village funds. Thanks to everyone who helped with dressing the figures, assembling the crib scene, ensuring the safety of the event, and putting the service together.
Christmas Eve Service in the Great Barn
It was so good to be able to hold the annual Christmas Eve service in the Great Barn again!
Thanks to everyone who took part, especially the Armstrong family who provided not only Mary and Joseph but also one of our readers.
Thanks to the generosity of everyone who donated, the collection amounted to just over £200, half of which is in the process of being sent to help children in Chennai, in India, via the Batemans Trust. If you wish, you can find more about the excellent work they do on their website or see their annual newsletter in the Church. The other half will be a welcome addition to the Church funds, especially if these high winds result in more tiles coming off the roof this winter and spring.
From Joy Lee
I am more than delighted that the event in the Great Barn is to go ahead. It was originated because I saw, through a crack in a barn door, in Prague, the forms of life-size sized figures of the Nativity. It was in communist times and, of course, there was no religion. I haunted the building until I found a crack in the door and, behold, the figures!
From Jennifer Norman
A bit about the Nativity in the Barn, it was the inspiration of Geoff Lee and made by people in the village with the Carols etc for the children in 1999. John Rounce, Richard May and l met during the year planning and who else could help, Peter Turner constructed the stable, someone else the electrics, John Rounce made the Angel which ‘flew’ up to the barn on the top of his car, how tall to make the figures etc. I was asked to make the costumes and robe the figures.
Thoughts on the materials which could withstand the cold, wind and rain.
Mary - A white shift which was given. A piece of velvet l had , quite old
Joseph - A dental gown, given by dentist living in the village. Made stripey overcoat, head scarf and Turks head band.
Baby Jesus - Swaddling clothes.
Shepherds - Gaberdine material given. Ponchos hessian given. Headscarves and torques, made
Kings - Gold - Shift from old sheet, tabard from my gold velvet curtains. Red scarf given to me, Christmas cracker brooch. Headdress, someone else made the crowns which were later replaced when we once had some vandalism.
King - Green - Shift. Green curtain. Gold headdress
King - Purple - Tabard, material given. Gold neckcloth and purple headscarf.
It was fun to do, but handed over when Rex was ill in 2009 and of course realise that it is right as younger people take over and may change. It has certainly has many visitors each year.
From Ian Beckwith
THE PREQUEL TO THE NATIVITY SCENE IN THE GREAT BARN
Before the present Nativity Scene was designed and installed, there was another version.
In 1997, in my first year as priest-in-charge, like the proverbial new broom, I was fossicking about in the vestry of St Giles and came across a complete set of ceramic Nativity figures, possibly German in origin, each standing about nine or ten inches tall. They been wrapped in newspaper, put in a box and shoved away in the back of a cupboard, there it seemed to lie forgotten until I accidentally found them (there was also a second, rather smaller, set).
They were too nice to be left in the dark. Yet to people a Nativity Scene with them would require a bigger setting than St Giles has room for, or so it seemed to me.
So the plan to set them up in the Great Barn came about and with it the idea of starting the Midnight Mass of Christmas with a short candlelit service of Blessing the Crib in the Barn, followed by a procession through the village to the church, singing the Christmas introit hymn, O Come All Ye Faithful.
Adam Twine, then at Colleymore Farm, Coleshill, who had the use of the Barn, gave his permission and lent me some pallets and Ann-Marie and I set up the figures I had found. I suspect that it was their first appearance on stage for many years. If, in St Giles, they might have been overwhelming, in the Great Barn they appeared tiny, even insignificant – but then so were Mary and Joseph before the might of the Roman Empire.
Christmas Eve came, a small gathering met round the Crib in the Great Barn, I read a Bidding Prayer used by the Iona Community, blessed the Crib and then we formed up in twos and processed through the village singing, led by the cross and our organist, Iain Wright, accompanying O Come … on his accordion while walking backwards along the street in the dark (Gt Coxwell has always had talent!). Even though it was nearly midnight, people stood on their doorsteps to watch us pass. Meanwhile the church was deliberately left in darkness, where Iain’s father, dear Grahame Wright (village historian extraordinaire) sat alone, waiting quietly for us. Ann-Marie had set out candles in jars to light our path to the church.
As the head of the procession entered the church porch, the lights went on, the altar candles were lit and Midnight Mass began. It was, by the way, normal for the congregation on this occasion to include two very well-behaved dogs. It was also one of the two occasions in the year when incense was used, but the dogs didn’t seem to mind.
On Christmas morning I had services to take at Coleshill, Buscot and Eaton Hastings, involving some speedy entrances and exits, not to mention the consumption of enough communion wine to take me over the limit (our wonderful community police officer said that he wouldn’t pull me over on Sundays or High Days and Holy Days). When eventually I got back to the vicarage, Ann-Marie had packed a small picnic for us to take up onto White Horse Hill, where we sat in the car, counting the coloured counties and unwinding.
On that first Christmas Night (1997) a wind got up and by bedtime had turned into a gale. We decided to check that the Nativity Scene was safe. Wrapped up in more clothing than we could move in, we battled our way against the wind to the Barn. It was just as well that we did so, because the double doors of one of the transepts had blown open, and the wind was whistling through the Barn, threatening to upset the fragile figures, rocking on their pallets. Ann-Marie is 4ft 10ins high and slight with it, but somehow we managed to pull the doors together and get the bar into the slot that holds them. Twenty-four hours earlier we had been standing in the Barn in the peace and quiet of the Blessing of the Crib. Now, with the great doors secured, the interior of the Barn fell silent again, the only disturbance being the gale roaring round outside. Mary, Joseph and the child were safe for the time being. Old Herod in the form of the gale hadn’t got them yet.
It was hard not to feel satisfied with ourselves as we were blown back along the street, to the vicarage and bed in the early hours of Boxing Day morning. Was Boxing Day that year a Sunday? – if so, there were more services and I had to be up betimes.
The following year (1998), the pallets were replaced by straw bales. The dogs were in their accustomed pews (they probably only came for the incense). All services over, we took our Christmas Morning picnic up to White Horse Hill. There were no more gales.
Incidentally, in those three Christmases, 1997, ’98 and ’99, before the old Crib figures were replaced by the new, we kept the tradition of not adding the Three Wise Men before their appointed time, the Feast of the Epiphany on 6th January. They did not arrive at the same time as the Shepherds and nor did the Shepherds and their flocks hang about, waiting for the Three Wise Men to get there from Persian lands afar, by which time, in any case, the Holy Family had probably left the cave-stable in Bethlehem and returned to Nazareth.
And finally, no account of the origins of the current Nativity figures should overlook the essential part played by Helen Anderson’s artistic oversight.