Ruth Baker's award-winning article on what Christmas means to her...
Growing up, night-times were a cacophony of noise. I would count police sirens as I fell asleep, their wails sometimes accompanied by the seemingly endless cut-cut-cut of a police helicopter, circling above narrow terraced streets long into the night. We lived near Junction 10 of the M1 and under the flight path of Luton Airport. The planes you got used to- the noise of their engines was so regular. You never noticed the dull roar of the motorway until the one morning of the year that it was absent. Christmas Day.
Christmas means to me silence, a good kind of silence. As a child I would step through the house in the early morning dusk to look out of the front room window. Over the grey brick, slate and concrete of the town I would wonder at the hushed stillness. No planes, no sirens (some miracle of Christmas that brought even the crime rate down for a day). No motorway. That was a very particular silence, because it was so rare. A thin line of silence, a slice of nothingness that would last through the early hours of the morning until about noon. Then it would be filled in again, and you would forget you could ever hear the motorway because it permeated its buzz in the back of your mind constantly until you were so used to it you didn’t realise it was there.
We drove through deserted streets to church and I used to think how remarkable it was that such a restless town could be so still and peaceful, just for a day.
Now I live in Keswick, I love the silence of the fells. It’s like an antidote to my childhood. The world doesn’t want to hear silence. Maybe that’s what’s so amazing about the first Christmas. Somewhere in Bethlehem- and I always rather unrealistically imagine a Lakeland fellside, all snow and sheep and dry-stone walls- there must have been some hours of silence in that stable. The silence of a new born baby sleeping by the side of his exhausted mother. The silence of a father sleeping with one eye open, against the dark night. And the silence of the strangers who came, wondering, to adore.
A silent baby, who was the remedy to all the world’s restlessness and grief.
So Christmas means to me silence, the silence of Peace.