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A contradiction in terms, most of the time, but it will be here -- and gone -- soon enough. Sinclair McKay in The Spectator:
There is one carol that has particular resonance for Londoners: ‘Silent night, holy night’. Just the idea of it can bring on an involuntary shiver of pleasure. In the 36 or so hours between Christmas Day and Boxing Day, after a solid month of the eldritch screeches of office parties and Westfield shopping, we city slickers are suddenly granted something more valuable than gold. The profound quiet — both in the darkness and the daylight — gives us a glimpse of the unsuspected soul of the city. The silence also tells us something about our everyday lives that, even subconsciously, some of us might want to change.
On Christmas morning itself, the transformation is at first subtle; for in the cosy domestic kerfuffle of presents/sprout-boiling/bickering, you don’t quite register what is happening outside. But open the front door and it swiftly creeps up on you; the exhilarating absence. No hiss of car or bus tyres on wet roads; no trains tickety-clicking across viaducts; no dreary drone of planes above. London’s background roar is extinguished. An entire city of eight million people has, seemingly without any kind of coercing, come to a complete and contented halt.
There are also rare occasions in deep winter when the city is covered with thick snow. White Christmases are less noteworthy in rural areas; in London, they have the impact of a revolution. Snow forces Londoners to stop and listen to silence.
Step out for your pre-lunch yomp with the rellies: savour not merely the novelty of being able to walk down the centre of the road, but also the new sensitivity of your ears, straining to find anything to listen to, save for the voices of your companions, or simply the sound of your own footsteps. As dogs with Christmas collars greet each other on Hampstead Heath, their owners look out over the gleaming City towers in the distance and subconsciously clock that on this one day, people — not businesses or banks or frightened economists — hold sway.
London’s everyday noise is the sound of commerce; but in the silence — with the slippery frost making even the dullest pavements glitter — we understand that the city is there for other reasons. You see more clearly the sombre, stern dignity of the City Wren churches; the pride that lay behind the silly gothic spires of St Pancras. In the quiet, you are more aware of the shadows of the city’s history.
The brilliance is that by contributing to the silence, even the most determined secularist is, for one day, accidentally engaging in something spiritual: not, perhaps, the silence of prayer, but of reflection. Unlike the Armistice two-minute silence — which increasingly is being urged upon us with a hectoring quality that entirely removes the point of it — this quiet is almost unintentional. By making a noise, Londoners affirm their existence; by being quiet, they tacitly acknowledge the existence of others. As a city crammed with eight million unashamed egoists, we Londoners more than most can feel the power of this Christmas reversal. A day without a loud pronouncement from Boris.
My emphasis in the last paragraph. While I approve of the two-minute silence, it can be a little awkward in the workplace. We received an email saying that "participation is voluntary" -- does this mean that non-participants must make a point of talking, even if they were not itending to?