The Christmas season is upon us, and in this year of all years, it feels needful. The festive season may promote a range of responses, from cynicism to cheer, but this year we need all the light and colour we can get – and all the variety in the monochrome landscape of restriction and anxiety. Watching students decorating classrooms with haphazard glee is just a delight – and something more than that. It feels almost nostalgic, as if this is an activity from the times before. Such nostalgia can be piercing, but it is tempered by the hope that vaccination will restore such everyday blessings sooner than we might have feared.

The burst of titivation under way across the school also prompted two further thoughts. Advent has meant many things over the centuries, and one of these used to be restraint. In what perhaps might mark a slight contrast from the modern festive season of office parties and indulgence, Advent was a time of fast, with the feast of Christmas – or rather feasts, spread over 12 days – to follow. Fasting sharpened anticipation, encouraged a meditative outlook, spoke to a sense of delayed gratification that we have perhaps lost. In the present times of compelled fast, when many sources of comfort in our life are on hold, it is worth encouraging in our students this sense of learning from a trying circumstance and embracing what it can teach us as much as we may rage against the limitations it enforces. On a simple level it reminds us that happiness is found in gratitude not gratification. A mass of fairy lights around a whiteboard is genuinely a delight, and genuinely makes anyone walking past the room smile. Being thankful for such comforts and the prospect of more, and being reminded by that thankfulness to think of others and express our gratitude to them, is a way to help the smile sink deep into the soul.

The other thought is one of community. Frau Byrne delivered a wonderful assembly this week on German Advent traditions, including the custom of literal Advent calendar windows. In small villages, groups gather each evening to visit a particular house; at the set moment the shutters are thrown open or the light turned on, and an Advent scene is illuminated. There is singing and food and drink; and the next night it starts all over again. Again, there was a sharp nostalgia at the thought of such easy fellowship. That spirit is what everyone at School, students and staff alike, has worked so hard to maintain even in our present bubble culture. It is a spirit of fellowship we seek to enhance still further through improvements to our approach to inclusion. And it is a spirit of fellowship that we look forward to celebrating above all as and when restrictions begin to ease.

Will le Fleming