Published by the Rains County Leader on December 24, 2019:
As a kid, December 24th and not the 21st seemed like the longest night of the year. The day was busy with running to the store for some forgotten item, wrapping just one more package, and cooking. The house was filled with holiday smells as Mom prepared her offerings for the Christmas Eve party at Aunt Fay’s house and Christmas dinner the next day.
Later on, when Aunt Fay’s five children were older and another sister and her family moved to town, the party rotated among the three homes. But in the early days, the number of presents for their large family required opening them on Christmas Eve to make room for Santa Claus, so we always gathered there. It was almost as exciting watching the chaos at their house as it was opening our presents the next morning. By the time we made it to bed, I was so revved up with cookies, candy, and excitement that I couldn’t sleep. In looking back, and knowing how sensitive a mother’s ears are, I wonder if my restlessness kept Mom awake.
A couple of decades later, I experienced for myself how disruptive a child’s sleep patterns can be to Christmas Eve. Christian was born on October 7, so he was only 2½ months old when Christmas rolled around. Some friends invited us to a late Christmas Eve supper followed by a midnight service at their church. Christian was a good baby, so we took him with us. As expected, he took a bottle and fell asleep while we ate, but by the time we arrived at the church, he was wide awake and ready to party. He was very observant and very verbal for his age, so he sang along with the choir as they processed toward the choir loft, and then he proceeded to coo at everyone around us. He and his dad spent the rest of the service in the foyer.
As our lives became more complicated, it became more difficult for my brother and I to spend the holidays together. Since he has three sons to my one, and since he is a minister, we spent several Christmases at his home. One church he pastored had three Christmas Eve services – one at 5:00 pm especially for children, one at 7:00 pm, and one at midnight. His wife JoLynn directed the hand bell choir that was playing in the two later services, and she asked me to fill in for one of her ringers who couldn’t make it. Rehearsal went well, and we went home to change into our festive clothes. A coworker had given me a beautiful white sweater that was decorated with pearls, and I was excited to wear it. The thing I hadn’t considered is that you damp the bells to stop them from ringing by placing them rim first against the front of your shoulder. The first time I damped my bell, I heard an unpleasant clunk as the brass rim landed in a cluster of pearls. After the service I changed again, and the midnight performance was quieter.
At this point in my life, most of the major holiday events seem to be over by Christmas Eve. Many of our friends are opting to gather with their families a week or two early when travel is easier and cheaper. School and church programs have been performed, and churches and other organizations have hosted parties. By the 24th, a lot of folks are ready for a quiet celebration at home with close family and maybe a few friends followed by, as the book says, a long winter’s nap.
The first Christmas Eve was just the beginning, though. After that miraculous birth surrounded by animals and shepherds, the next thirty-three years were spent preparing for a purpose that had been destined from the beginning. It was prophesied by Isaiah:
For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Merry Christmas and Happy 2020!