Review: A Hanse Christ Mess by Helen Thirkettle

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Christmas, Solstice, Noel – whatever you choose to call it and however you choose to celebrate it, what is this festival about? How do turkey, trees and tinsel fit into the mix of religious and secular celebration that make an English Christmas?

These questions were addressed by three wise men on December 6 at Hanse House. Gareth Calway, Dr Paul Richards and Tom Conway gifted their audience with an evening of seasonal poetry, song and story.

Gareth opened with poetry, predominantly from U.A. Fanthorpe, alongside his own works, including a defence of Puritanism, a debunking of traditions and a history of all things yuletide. His choice of verse, often humorous, encouraged his audience to imagine the humanity of the nativity and to reflect upon the fragility of sustaining true meaning against a backdrop of commercialisation.

Dr Richards followed with a lecture on Christmas in the medieval and Victorian Hanse House. He spoke of the connection between Germany and King’s Lynn, explaining that many English festive traditions have Germanic roots. Embedded throughout his lecture were interesting facts setting Lynn in an English and European context.

Interspersed throughout were performances by Tom. His folk-inspired, stripped-back interpretation of traditional carols brought attention to their lyrics. He performed a carol, composed with Calway, proclaiming that at the heart of any Christmas celebration there should be love.

This was the underlying message of the evening; the organic, intertwined performances encouraged the audience to consider the symbolism behind their celebrations and to connect Solstice past with Christmas present.