Thursday, December 17, 2009
We sit in our pews, carefully holding our candles and singing Silent Night. Emotions of the evening are private as each of us brings our own thoughts of Christmas pasts prayerfully into the present. After the prayer the choir begins the Hallelujah Chorus, joined by those in the congregation who wish to do so. Everyone else stands in silent celebration as the sanctuary is overwhelmed with the joy of the birth of the new born king.
It’s the night before Christmas and all through Cobb County, as it is at the First Presbyterian Church Marietta service described above, there are voices joined in resounding joy. The secular traditions of the holiday, the frazzled days of shopping and decorating, are secondary to those of the religious celebration.
One of my Face Book friends recently asked folks to tell her about their Christmas traditions that they shared with their children. Along with several others, I began by talking about our tradition of going to the Christmas Eve service at our church. I have an idea that Christmas, more than most holidays, is one in which the traditions of our childhoods play a major role in how we celebrate as adults.
I grew up as a member of a small Southern Baptist church that didn’t have a Christmas Eve service. After I married a Presbyterian, the Eve service became a part of our own family tradition. Before children and when they were very young, we were members of the First Presbyterian Church in St. Marys, Georgia, a small historic church near the intercoastal waterway. The first Christmas after our daughter Katie was born, we set out for the church in freezing cold weather. Looking back, I am amazed that, the overprotective mother that I was, I agreed to take our little baby and her toddler-aged brother out in record setting cold – minus three or so. But it was a beautiful service and the tradition has continued no matter what the weather.
Now we are members of First Presbyterian Marietta, a much larger historic church near the Square. But the size of the church doesn’t determine the experience of the Christmas Eve service. It is the worship experience; the celebration of the birth of Christ that repeats the message of the season.
This year, making the service extra special, I will be joined in the congregation by our son, Peter, and his wife Ann-Bailey and our daughter, Katie, and her husband Drew. Allan will be in the tenor section of the choir. We will join folks all over the world participating in the celebration of Christmas, our one truly international holiday.