Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. Luke 2:20
I started searching my memories of Christmas in childhood. I wasn’t sure what all might come to mind as I started making an effort to recall Christmases past. Here is what I came up with.
I remember Wednesday evening Advent services. This was the 60’s when people still got dressed up to go to church. Even the Wednesday evenings Advent and Lenten services saw us making the effort to dress up to respect where we were heading. That’s one big difference! We’ve gone from Casual Fridays to Casual Always. This despite studies years ago that demonstrated that dressing down led to poorer work performance. It’s true that clothes really do make the man…or the woman as the case may be.
Dress up for church? That’s for Christian snobs who only come to show off. Or so they say. I was taught that it was about respect.
Wednesday attendance did not equal Sunday mornings, and that was to be expected, given people’s work schedules. Still, I remember the anticipation of every Wednesday, another candle lit on the Advent wreath, another week closer to Christmas!!
But with a star on top
There were two ways to go home from church after an Advent service. I always begged my dad to drive straight up Parkside Boulevard coming home at night so I could see the Christmas star atop the Toledo Hospital on the far side of Ottawa Park. I was always disappointed if he decided to cut off onto Mt. Vernon, missing the sight of the star. That was always a big deal for me – seeing that star on the way home.
Christmas Eve was a bigger deal than Christmas Day, really. That’s when the church pulled out all the stops. We had a great music director, so there was the choir, trumpets, hand bells,…the whole shmeer!
There were the Christmas carols sung as we held candles in the lights-out sanctuary and tried not to flinch as the hot wax dripped on our hands. It was a spiritual event! I never felt so alive!
I remember a bona fide visit from Santa when I was very young. After Christmas Eve worship, my mom put out a few cookies on a paper plate with a glass of milk for the Big Man himself! I was astounded beyond measure the following morning to see an empty glass and crumbs of cookies on the paper plate. In addition to that, scrawled on the plate with a crayon, was “Thank you!”
Santa was really there, and I had the proof!
Santa faded over the years, but the majesty of a Christmas Service remained. Attendance went down. It went from having to show up early to avoid the folding metal chairs in the narthex to plenty of room in the sanctuary with space to spare.
Christmas morning never has held the spectacle of Christmas Eve, but I always enjoyed it.
I stopped going to most Christmas services quite a number of years ago. I know we’re supposed to welcome visitors with open arms and hearts, but the rudeness eventually outweighed the glory of it all. The last Christmas Eve I attended for several years was because a visitor walked across the very front of the sanctuary and cursed, loud as could be! With a huge smile he yelled, ”J**** Chr***, Bob! How the hell ya been?!?” Right in front of the alter. That was the pinnacle of rudeness and disrespect that had grown year after year.
Yeah, I’m a Christian snob, I guess, but I think guests or the twice-a-year crowd should at least act like guests and show a little respect for the place and the service. So, that was the last Christmas Eve service I went to for many years.
The first church I went to in Memphis actually voted to stop having Christmas morning services, since no one felt like going to church when there were so many presents to unwrap, so much food to eat. *sigh*
This year I’m trying to make every Advent service. I plan to attend the Christmas Eve Festival Worship as well as Christmas morning. There are too many good memories to let the bad ruin it for me. It’s time to recapture the joy of what it’s all about. It’s time to…return, to rekindle the fonder memories and make a few new ones before any more time escapes me.