Interesting Christmas Eve building here, 73F 99% wind 17 mph at oh two thirty, can hardly see anything because windows are thickly covered with a layer of moisture. Opening the sliding door onto the porch brings a strong breeze whipping things around the room as dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly. So it really is Christmas Eve.
Our gospel at church this evening will be a wonderfully chaotic Christmas pageant of children and song, music, carols, here’s the church and here’s the steeple, open the door and there’s all the people roomful of happy celebrants, parents and proud grandparents. If I have it right, the ho ho ho “liturgy” starts at four-thirty but music and singing starts at four o’clock. Pray the weather’s decent, because at Holy Nativity every event is even better than the superlative one before.
The first service is packed. The second one is ten-thirty tonight I think, with music starting at ten.
What comes to mind. Two things, I reckon, three, maybe four. Once again, my first “Midnight Mass” when I was thirteen. My siblings were too young to go, but I was old enough at last, a nap before church, then mama woke me with a cup of hot chocolate, I dressed and went with my father. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, we were in our new 1948 Dodge. After church the weather was chilly, foggy, damp, and as we drove away my father rolled down his window and called, “Merry Christmas, John,” to John Pennel, tenor in our choir. It was my first realization that Christmas is the Christmas Eve service.
Another memory. Christmases during the late 1970s when we lived in Pennsylvania, the year, it would have been 1976, our first year there, Linda and Tass went to Mount Calvary, while I went to St. Luke’s because it was “high church,” then went to Mount Calvary later and to the party after at someone's house. Bitter cold, deep snow, frozen roads and the Oldsmobile station wagon slipping and skidding all over.
My enchantment with St. Luke’s went south the Sunday I watched the rector scratch his nose as he prepared the bread and wine. Nameless, that rector years later deposed for fraternizing with parishioner wives, then went to work for the commonwealth.
For twenty years or so, from 1984 on, I thought Christmas happened nowhere else in the universe but Apalachicola, at Trinity Church. Chill and damp outside, historic old church bursting at the seams with friends and neighbors. After the Whiteside wedding when the family insisted on incense and bought a thurible, I joyfully smoked up the place on Christmas Eve. At some point an overzealous thurifer, I think it another Whiteside son, spilled burning coals on the new red carpet right up at the step into the Altar area. Each member of the choir that night, as they paused to “reverence the cross,” went stomp stomp stomp stomp on the smoking coals glowing brightly on the carpet. Thereafter, I used dry ice and water to create incense smoke.
Maybe the other memory is Christmas Eve 2010. I was two-plus months into my diagnosed “two to five months to live” and popping nitroglycerin pills one after another to keep the angina at bay while waiting for my end of January appointment at Cleveland Clinic. But I assisted at the Christmas Eve service anyway, a picture around here somewhere of me giving Communion to loved ones at the Altar rail. He may not remember, but only the rector and I knew how fast I was popping the pills, and after the service he told Linda to take me home.
a fifth. Christmas 1947 I was in Adams Hospital, Panama City, recovering from my appendectomy. My mother made my hospital room bright with a table top Christmas tree with bubble-lights. We had that little tree for years.
Half a dozen then. Christmas 1978 USN (Retired) …