We had a tradition in our family where, every Christmas Eve, we would go to church. None of that midnight mass business, just a simple early-evening service of lessons and carols. At the conclusion of the service the congregation would sing [every blessed] verse of the carol, “Silent Night.” As we sang, we would light the candles that we had been handed as we walked into the sanctuary. Once everyone’s candle was lit, we would process out of the sanctuary into the church’s front yard, where we would gather (depending on the year) either beneath the stained glass window, around the live nativity scene, or in front of one of the large wooden lawn crosses. We’d finish singing whatever verse (the hundredth it usually felt like) we were on once everyone finally made it outside, then there would be a benediction, everyone would hug and say Merry Christmas, and then we’d all go home to watch Santa Tracker on the local evening news. My family still attends this service, and when I am home I do, too. And even though it’s changed some over the years (we no longer process, we just light the candles, sing the verses, and receive the benediction all from the comfort of our seats; I actually liked it better the old way) it’s always been a service that I loved, and I missed it this year.
We spent this Christmas at The Blue Horse Inn (seriously, just go), and on Christmas Eve we attended a service of lessons and carols at the North Universalist Chapel Society. And, what do you know, they handed us candles as we arrived for the service and at the end we lit them and processed outside! I don’t remember what we sang as we processed (I don’t think it was “Silent Night”), but it was a bitter cold and snowy twist on a very familiar tradition — once outside, we were instructed to place our candles in the snow, which is where the beautiful photo in my header comes from. Here it is in full (© JPP 2010):
Then after the service was over we walked two doors down, poured several cocktails, and had a dance party.
It was a very Merry Christmas.