We didn’t believe in Santa. When we were young, Christmas Eve wasn’t about anticipating the clatter of hoofs and bells—it was all about the Christmas Eve services at church. My mom was a minister and we didn’t just go to one service, we went to all the services.
You had to have strategies. You had to have stamina. When my brother and I got older, we had to have jobs. One year we directed traffic at a fancy church that had over 5,000 people attending services. Stress, expensive cars, old people driving in the dark for that one special night of the year…yeah, nightmare. At that same church, one year we lit hundreds of those cute little bags with snowflake patterns and crosses cut out of them. When we finally finished they looked pretty damn magical, glowing along the path to the sanctuary, until one of the bags caught on fire and we had to stamp it out. We took bets during the service how many more would be alight when we got out.
Some of the strategies my brother and I incorporated were making sure we knew where the food was between services. When you’re at church from 3 or 4 in the afternoon until after midnight, food and water are literally life-savers. We scoped it out at the beginning of the night, asking the people in the kitchens or the old ladies that seemed to somehow know every logistic of every service; what food would be where and when it would be set up. In between our various duties, we would have surgical strikes at the food table, picking the prime items, balancing protein and a healthy amount of sugar, weaving in and out of the crowd like seasoned veterans. Sometimes we had to resort to running across the street to the little market or hitting the KFC downtown. Off-campus forays, though often tastier, were risky time-wise; had to get back in time for the next “show.”
One of my favorite memories though, is belting out those classic Christmas hymns with my brother in the pews. We’d over-roll our Rs on the “Glorias” and mimic the over-zealous singers around us, sometimes busting out our best falsettos to pay special tribute to those sopranos that appeared to be more into hearing their own glorious voices than anything else in church that evening.
I remember at this one church, just for the midnight service, everyone would get a candle that would be lit during the final hymn, “Silent Night.” I enjoyed looking around the circle for those worried about the hot wax burning them or notice the people who were crying. And as I got older, I didn’t worry so much about that wax, but I did get teared up. Even though we joked about the Christmas service marathons and made fun of just about every aspect of those services you could think of, there was something magical about that midnight service. Maybe I was just delirious from being at church so long, or maybe seeing the soft glow of candlelight on everyone’s faces around the room, coupled with the a cappella singing of that beautiful hymn, really captured the spirit of Christmas. At that moment, every Christmas Eve, it was easy to believe everyone could find love, that peace among all people really was possible, and that somehow a power greater than ourselves could provide hope for a brighter year ahead.