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A crooked road to Christmas

A life in the year of Emily Shark

i've never noticed before how many sheep there are in Christmas carols.

They're everywhere, and I don't think anyone's paying them proper attention.

Here we all are cheerfully singing about how the shepherds "left their flocks a-feeding In tempest, storm and wind," without so much as a newly qualified sheepdog to stop them wandering off a cliff.

Flipping through this little book of carols, I can find only one reference to the shepherds going back to their sheep after all the excitement of the night before. "Then to their flocks, still praising God, return."' Hmm.

What this optimist should have written is, "Then they remembered their poor, neglected sheep Squashed and forgotten beneath the mountain steep."

We should all be eating lamb for Christmas dinner, not turkey.

This is really bugging me. Those sheep clearly aren't special self-regulating ones, because each shepherd is always shown with crook in hand, so they clearly do their own sheepy thing from time to time and have to be pulled back from disaster. What bothers me most is that everyone in this story drops everything to go and see the baby Jesus. But life goes on, and the least the angel could have done is arrange some cover.

You can see it from the shepherds' point of view, though. You've counted and settled your sheep for the night. Suddenly, flash, twinkle, flap: an angel tells you to leave them all to go and see something more important.

You're hardly going to say, "Erm, that sounds really great, but what about my sheep?" It's like some weird celestial fire alarm. You just go, but your charges don't come with you. There's a lot of trust involved in all this.

It's funny, this feeling of protectiveness. I don't get it that often.

Maybe that's because in my lessons it's more likely to be me who's being pushed towards the cliff edge. "Herod the king in his raging..." Yes. I have my Herod moments, when I think he had a point, and prevention seems better than cure. Do I really want to say "Sit down!" 70 times a day for the next 30 years when, no matter what I do, they will never recognise that I am king, and I alone!

My Herod moments have passed, though. For now. I feel like a peaceful shepherd reflecting on how fluffy sheep can be. I always get soppy in the last verse of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". All those serious young faces, cleansed of anger and boredom by a beautiful old tune. Fresh, bright voices that might even calm a raging king.

"Born to raise the sons of earth..." Well, raising anything is not an easy task. But it has its moments. Like this one, when all is calm, all is bright, and for two twinkly weeks someone else is going to look after my sheep.

Emily returns on January 12

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