Christmas Eve, 2018

I think that my earliest independent memory is of Christmas Eve. I know well a story that comes from some months earlier, and sometimes I think that I can remember that event, but that memory has been so reinforced by a photograph and the frequent telling of the story, especially when I was growing up. When I think of that particular event, what I remember most is the scene from the photography. Christmas Eve when I was 2 1/2 years old, however, I do remember. What I remember is being taken by the hand out into the back yard and going between the garage and a small house that sat behind our house so that I could look across the alley at the hospital building. It was inside that building, I was told, that our mother was. I couldn’t go there on Christmas Eve, but the next day I would be able to go. What was going on in that building was that my brother was being born. I don’t remember much about him as a baby and don’t remember his b birth being that big of a deal. What I do remember is that mother was at the hospital on Christmas Eve and that the next day we opened our presents at the hospital. There was a Christmas Tree in a lounge area at the ned of the hospital corridor. I my memory we took all of Christmas, tree and all, to the hospital, but I’m sure that part of my memory isn’t right. We didn’t take the tree from our house over there, but we did take our presents and open them in the hospital.

And so I grew up, from that time forward, with a firm distinction in our household. Christmas Eve was my brother’s birthday, complete with birthday cake and a special dinner of the foods he liked best. He got to open presents on his birthday, but the rest of us had to wait until the next day. But with Christmas and all of the presents and all of the excitement, waiting was just too much, so after supper and after we had read the Christmas story from the bible and after we had sung Christmas carols around the piano we go to open up one present each before going to bed. We always opened presents one at a time, starting with the youngest kid. For a few years that seemed a bit unfair to me because my brother who had already had birthday presents that day, usually at the noon meal, now got to open up the first present while I had to wait. It wasn’t long, however, before we had younger boys and he lost that distinction.

As I grew older, I became aware that there were families whose tradition was to open presents on Christmas Eve. Their families focused on a celebration dinner and other activities on Christmas Day. Our family had a big Christmas dinner as well all of those trimmings, but we started Christmas day by being able to look at our Santa present and Christmas stockings before breakfast. Breakfast wasn’t its usual ritual of eggs and toast, either. We were allowed to eat cold cereal even though it was winter. Sometimes we just had Kix cereal with melted butter, a tradition that developed in our house for Christmas day only and which I don’t think was observed by anyone else that I know.

Now that I am older, I really appreciate the fact that we waited until Christmas Day to open the bulk of our gifts. The time of anticipation and expectation is a strong part of my observance of Christmas. I enjoy the feeling of waiting with excitement.

These days we have most of the things that we could want. The focus of the holiday is not on gifts now. We’d do better by getting rid of a few things rather than by acquiring more things. Still, I love the anticipation.

The traditions in our family revolve around church. I’ve noticed that many churches have been offering earlier and earlier services to allow family traditions to include meals and other evening activities. The services in our town begin as early as 4 pm in some congregations. Our church, however, has its first service at 7 pm, allowing families to have dinner first and waiting until it is fully dark. We also have the latest service in our town, starting at 11:30 and including the sharing of communion and the tolling of the church bell at midnight. The service was started over 20 years ago in relationship to shift workers who get off at 11:30. The latest service in any other church is at 11:00 pm, which meant that all of the Christmas Eve services offered in town occurred while those who work 3 - 11 cannot attend. Law enforcement officers, hospital workers, and others who have essential jobs end up missing church services. We decided it was important to offer a service that is outside of the normal range. It has become my favorite service of the year. The congregation is usually small, the service is intimate. For many years, I have been working with the same piano player. We’ve developed a style of working and communicating that allows a service without solid lines between the music and the spoken word. Rather we intertwine the two. The celebration of communion is a reminder of the full life and even the death of Jesus and an acknowledgment that the people who come to worship are at all different points in their own life journeys. Our faith is for all of life, not just for the moments of marriage and birth and death. The service welcomes people wherever they are in their lives. Some come dressed in new Christmas clothes. Others come from work wearing whatever they have. Some come in family groups. Some come as single individuals. together we form a congregation and speak words of hope and peace, joy and love.

I’m grateful for the Eve. Christmas will be special, but for today, I can wait.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!