In the Bleak Midwinter


Please note, this recording contains language that some people may find offensive.

This episode of Greenbelt’s ‘Somewhere To Believe In’ comes in the form of a one-off Christmas reflection; brought to you by our friend Beloved Sara Zaltash, a ‘non-denominational rabble-rouser and soul-soother for a world in crisis’.

It was our pleasure to welcome Beloved Sara to Greenbelt for the first time this year, along with her heavenly spiritual chants and adaptation of the Islamic Call to Prayer. And now she’s back again, reflecting on Christmas, with personal stories of community, songs of hope and prayers of blessings.

As Beloved Sara says, we hope ‘you gather around these sounds in warmth and with whatever is dear to you, and that these words shine a beacon of friendship into your Christmas season.’


Late this November, Greenbelt Festival’s Creative Director, Paul Northup, called me with a request to collaborate on something like a podcast, that wasn’t quite a podcast, to be shared with the Greenbelt community this Christmastime. 

I wish I could say that the first emotion I experienced was humility. I wish I was that saint! In truth, I was overwhelmed with giddy delight. Was I really being asked to share my thoughts, stories and songs with the Greenbelt community, that vital and gorgeous and exceptionally kind bunch of people that had won my heart this summer when I performed at the festival? In truth, it took a whole afternoon of pinching myself before the thrill of Paul’s request subsided, before I could settle into what was being asked of me. Did Greenbelters really want to hear more from me? What can I give them, poor as I am? 

As the start of Advent loomed, Paul and I realised that the task ahead was greater than the time available, and that we needed a different approach. Paul wondered about centering the not-exactly-a-podcast on my voice, seeing as it was my voice that had been received so kindly by Greenbelters at the festival. It was then that I remembered a piece of storytelling I had written for a guest slot at Sunday Assembly East End in December 2016 – a personal story, woven with song, that was Christmassy and yet not-exactly-Christmassy. This story is what we have chosen to share with you this year. 

Funnily enough, Sunday Assembly thought that the story was actually too Christian for their congregation. For me, this story abridges my whole life’s experience of sincere acceptance, inclusion and welcome into Christian community, regardless of how I have shown up. This story does not promote any specific belief or doctrine, except perhaps the belief in the redemptive power of song. 

That’s what we have to give you; we give our hearts. 

Thank you for all of the support and willingness offered by the Greenbelt team and not-quite-podcast contributors. Thank you especially to Abigail Maxwell, a Greenbelter and Quaker who provides us with a sobering prayer of blessing that we can hold alongside the gladness of the season. I pray that our offering greets you in the finest health, that you gather around these sounds in warmth and with whatever is dear to you, and that these words shine a beacon of friendship into your Christmas season.

Yours ever, 
Your own, 
Beloved Sara Zaltash


00:00 – Introduction
01:45 – In the bleak midwinter
07:33 – A Christmas song
10:04 – Eric
16:16 – School
28:10 – Merry Christmas
28:37 – A prayer of blessing
31:04 – ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ song