Just after 3pm on Christmas Eve you can hear on Radio 4 the start of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College Cambridge.
In the gathering darkness the famous service will take us into Christmas night.
Christmas cannot be cancelled. No party, no turkey is not the same as no Christmas.
The twelve days of Christmas will take us into January with a number of special days when we remember the Christian martyrs who died for the faith taught by the Child Jesus: Stephen (on Boxing Day), Thomas Becket (Tuesday) and James the Great (Wednesday).
The Wise Men arrive a week later on Twelfth Night in January. The Holy Family leaves Bethlehem on 2 February.
Firecrackers in Naples at 5.50am this Sunday morning will have welcomed the feast of Santa Lucia.
In normal times the church near the waterfront would have been open all night following an eve of feast street procession at 10pm.
In Venice at San Geremia, where many visit the body of St Lucy and candles glow all day, the number at Mass is being limited to a hundred with entry strictly by the main door and the exit via the canal side.
Naples is where the song sung all over Sweden today orginated. There the virus will not prevent girls dressing up with a Lucia crown at home in early morning to bring special buns to their parents and others in the house.
St Lucy wore the crown of candles so that her hands could be free to carry food for prisoners.
Several Lucia services in Britain are going ahead with social distancing including one this evening at Southwark Cathedral.
Today is one of the Advent steps to Christmas. The light from the crown of Lucia which brought relief is also a reminder of the light of Christ.
The feast of Our Lady of Loreto, also called the Translation of the Holy House, today Thursday 10 December marks the arrival at Loreto in Italy of the house where Mary lived and heard from the angel that she was to give birth to the Messiah.
The little house arrived in 1294. The journey of the 23ft 6in x 12ft 10in building from Nazareth had began in 1291 with a three year pause at Trsat in Croatia where there is a shrine known as the Croatian Nazareth.
The tiny building had stood against a cave which was part of the home. At Loreto it was first at the bottom of the hill for about eight months until lifted up to the summit wreathed in laurels.
The sandstone and brick house without any of its foundations is now encased in marble and enclosed by a large church, the Santuario della Santa Casa built in 1468, just as Christ’s outdoor tomb in Jerusalem is also now protected within a church.
The house was moved from Nazareth via Coatia by a family called Angelos which gave rise to a belief that the building was carried by angels and has resulted in the charming iconography of flying and even swimming angels carrying the little house.
The flying story led to Our Lady of Loreto, whose statue is in the Holy House, being declared the patron of pilots and air crews a century ago this year.
Recent archaeological excavations at Loreto and Nazareth have confirmed the authenticity of the Holy House.
Many people have been intrigued by Loreto including painter JMW Turner who sketched the Holy House in 1819. John Henry Newman visited in the year of his ordination 1847.
Buried in the basilica’s Lady Chapel is Richard Crashaw, Little St Mary’s Cambridge curate, who in 1648 wrote the Christmas carol Gloomy Night.
Last year Pope Francis restored the feast of Our Lady of Loreto to the universal calendar making it an option for observance today.
The importance of the day is that it allows us now in Advent to recall the Annunciation. The appearance of the angel to Mary, The Annunciation, is observed nine months before Christmas on 25 March when it is also often largely forgotten due to the approach of Easter.
The Immaculate Conception on 8 December does not celebrate the conception of Jesus but the conception of the Virgin Mary by her mother Anne following normal sexual intercourse with husband Joachim.
Mary’s birth, after Anne’s nine month pregnancy, is observed on 8 September.
The announcement of the Virgin Mary being pregnant with Jesus without sexual intercourse was celebrated at the Annunciation on 25 March and but is also remembered in two days’ time on the Feast of Our Lady of Loreto, also called the Translation of the Holy House.
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception maintains that Mary was born free of original sin in order to preserve the purity of her future son. She was immaculate, meaning spotless and never alienated from God, because she was being prepared for her unique calling.
St John Henry Newman said: ‘She was filled with grace in order to be the Mother of God.’ This reflects God’s call of Jeremiah: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you.’
Advent is not Christmas but this weekend 5-6 December we can think about Father Christmas because he is derived from St Nicholas.
Or is he St Nicholas as in Holland where last night children this Saturday will put out their shoes hoping for a present?
This year St Nicholas does not get his usual a big day to himself because St Nicholas Day, 6 December, is also the Second Sunday of Advent.
St Nicholas was born into a Christian family in 280 at Patara (now in Turkey) and became Bishop of nearby Myra.
His life has resulted in him being the patron of bankers, single women and pawnbrokers (thanks to a three girls and the bags of gold story) children ( after a pickled boys incident), sailors (following the calming of a storm) and parfumiers and apothecaries (due to the manna from his tomb in Bari, Italy).
He is also patron of Russia, Lorraine, Aberdeen, Liverpool, Portsmouth, New York, merchants, scholars and parish clerks.
Advent starts tonight as darkness falls. Saturday Evensong is the first of Advent. Tomorrow is Advent Sunday when we light the first candle on the wreath.
But it’s not Christmas.
However, it could be the start of a Slow Christmas as we try to live out the lovely special days and significant steps of Advent so that the Christmas Day feast is more appreciated when it comes.
Advent is a time for thinking both about the birth of Christ which will be celebrated at the climax and the coming of Christ again.
Christmas cannot be cancelled by isolation due to the virus. Christian prisoners during the Second World War or people held in Soviet camps counted the days and kept Christmas in their hearts with joy when the day came.
This last Sunday before Advent is known as Stir Up Sunday due to the Book of Common Prayer collect for today. This old name is much used now as it is linked to the idea of stirring the Christmas pudding although most puddings will have been maturing for some time.
Many Anglicans can expect hear that old prayer today immediately after communion.
Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by you be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
So today is not Christmas but the end of the liturgical year when we celebrate Christ the King. It is the climax of the year we began on Advent Sunday twelve months ago.