Because of the season, I thought it might be fun to share more stories of Christmas than just my own. Here’s a lovely story of Christmas Eve from my friend Jen. (If you’re anything like me, the end will make you tear up in the best of ways.)
Christmas Eve is my favorite day of the year. There is something about the anticipation of the next day combined with the traditions of the day itself that just clicks.
Growing up, traditions lasted all day. Starting with a “elf gift” at breakfast, continuing with snacks & appetizers as guests arrived (my personal favorite: the Tuna Ball), and later dinner (always steak). Then we would head off to the Candlelight Christmas Eve service at church.
After church, we’d change into PJs and open gifts from extended family lit only by Christmas lights, candles, and the glow of the fireplace warming our living room. Finally, we’d curl up together and read our traditional Christmas Eve books: The Donkey’s Dream, The Polar Express and, of course, The Night Before Christmas. Cookies & milk were left for Santa and I was sent to bed to try to fall asleep while listening for Santa & the reindeer to arrive.
With minor variations, this is how every Christmas Eve I can remember was spent. In fact, when I was younger any change to the tradition really upset me.
These days I’m far more flexible (except about the Tuna Ball. That’s a non-negotiable)
One part of the tradition I was unaware of growing up was during the church service. Every year on Christmas Eve the adult choir sang “O, Holy Night” featuring a soloist. At our church there was one woman in the choir who waited all year for this solo. She just loved to sing it. Perhaps a bit too much. Now she didn’t have a bad voice, but it was one of the older woman’s soprano voices that warbled considerably on every note.
When singing “O, Holy Night” she would get so involved in the song that her very well-intended performance went…over the top. Her eyes rolled back in her head and her head swayed with the music, while her whole body jerked upwards every time she went for a high note.
The effect was so entirely comical that my father simply could not keep it together. Every year in an attempt to keep his face somewhat neutral, he would sit in the pew and literally shake with held-in laughter, gripping my mother’s hand as tightly as possible to keep himself from making a scene. Like a good spouse, she gripped back, and they sat in the pew together, overflowing with the joy and merriment of the season and the situation.
As a kid I was blissfully unaware of this. I sat in the children’s choir, in front of the adult’s choir and thus unable to see the singer. I was only aware that my parents seemed very happy in the audience.
When my father passed away, my mother shared the memory with me before we went to the Christmas Eve service. However, that year, the soloist for “O, Holy Night” changed. It was as if she knew her biggest fan was no longer in attendance.
My first Christmas back from college we decided to go to the 11pm church service. This allowed me to sing in the service again with the “Young Adult” choir. This choir was made up of anyone who showed up an hour before the service to rehearse a couple of songs to sing that evening. I showed up, greeted my former choir master and sat with the group to rehearse a few very simple choral pieces. As it turned out, one of the songs we were slated to sing was “O, Holy Night”. The director was hoping for a soloist. When no one else volunteered, I raised my hand.
That Christmas Eve, during “O, Holy Night” I was once again sitting up front while my mother sat in the congregation, only this time I was the one singing and my mother sat alone, crying instead of laughing, but I’m pretty sure my Dad was there too, laughing once again, full of the joy & merriment of the situation & season.
Happy Christmas Eve, everyone! I’m not sure anyone has the tradition of reading blogs on this day….but if you are reading, wonderful! I hope you enjoyed; Jen and I would love to hear any holiday traditions you care to share in the comments!