Sunday, December 22, 2013


The small Southern Baptist Church of my childhood worshiped with a quieter, simpler Christmas celebration than our current large Presbyterian Church in Marietta. There was no advent wreath and lighting of the advent candles. There was no candlelight Christmas Eve Service; no living nativity such as the one we enjoyed in our South Georgia church. But there were simple decorations of greenery; we sang Christmas Carols with gusto and listened prayerfully to the Christmas story and cherished the true meaning of Christmas.
First Presbyterian Church, St. Marys, Georgia

After I married a Presbyterian, the Christmas 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, being the overprotective mother I was, that I agreed to take our little baby and toddler son 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.

Two years ago, we celebrated the Christmas Eve service with our two grown children, their spouses, and our then baby granddaughters. Allan was singing with the other choir members and I sat, with a broken elbow, holding one of the babies.  When we stood for a hymn, Katie took her daughter, Addie, from me; probably a good idea with only one good arm. Traditions are special; and they can be modified as our family grows in love and numbers.

Several years ago, one of my Face Book friends 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. Christmas, more than most holidays, seems to be one in which the traditions of our childhoods play a major role in how we celebrate as adults. The beautiful decorations and Christmon Tree at our current Presbyterian Church fill me with the Christmas spirit. Throughout December we sing Advent songs and await the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child. Church, whether decorated elaborately or simply, draws us to the Christmas message.

Do we carry our Christmas decorating and celebrating from our homes into the church or do we carry the Church celebration and decorating into our homes? Does it really matter? The truth is the spirit of Christmas is alive wherever we are; in church; in our homes; with other people; or alone. The secular traditions of the holiday, the frazzled days of shopping and decorating, are secondary to those of the religious celebration. Trees; wreaths; stockings; lights; ornaments; Santa; gifts; cards; divinity; cookies; and fruit cake: all are the trappings of the season. These symbols of the season are meaningless, however, without putting the Christ in Christmas. And the best part of the Christmas spirit is that it doesn’t need to be December for us to hold the message of Christmas in our hearts and in our minds and in our lives.