IT really was a most magical Carol Service. Candle lit. Beautiful singing from a full choir in scarlet robes; wonderful organ perfectly played, trumpets giving spine tingling woomph, poetry to liven up the traditional readings. And a chance for us all to sing along to our favourite carols in between the perfectly performed choir set pieces. A perfect evening to get us in the mood for Christmas.

It was my fourth carol service this year (just one more to go…). The growing popularity of Advent Carol services, like the cathedral’s famous Darkness to Light services, has extended the carol service season. And, while the church of England is recording record all-time low attendances at regular church services, special services – like remembrance, Christmas and Easter are bucking the trend; numbers are increasing. You’ll need to get there early this year if you want a good seat at a Carol Service!

Regular readers of this column will know that I have mixed feelings about many aspects of Christmas. (A couple of years ago I wrote about the scourge of the office Christmas Party, to the dismay and approbation of my then colleagues who called me Scrooge.) I rail against its early arrival and rampant commercialisation. But other features I really enjoy, a good Carol Service being one of them.

Psychologists remind us that when we are sad or distressed memories are triggered of when we had similar feelings – so our reaction to the here and is enriched by a delayed or suppressed response to a previous occasion when those feelings were evoked, often catching us by surprise.

So it is with feelings of joy and pleasure. They too can trigger responses deep within us from times when we felt similar emotions. The joy of Christmas isn’t simple nostalgia – it evokes childhood memories of wonder and joy; even those who don’t remember their childhood with much affection, will often have memories of Christmas as a time when parents pulled out all the stops in order to give their children a good time.

So it’s not that surprising that traditional carols in a traditional setting evokes heartwarming emotions for so many people. And at this time of year, when it’s dark, cold, gloomy, parking is a nightmare and there’s not quite enough money in the bank to get everyone what they want – then an hour’s respite with our subconscious reminiscing the warmest memories of childhoods past – is doubly welcome. The beauty and tranquillity of the present enriched by evocations of the past.

‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ may be a Victorian doggerel and outdated theology but not without good reason is the nation’s favourite carol – reminding us that in the bleakest of our midwinter days there is warmth and hope recalled from the past and here today if we can but see it.