Christmas Eve Eve (Sunday night) - I am deep in the throes of cold symptoms and exhausted from several busy days with even less sleep than usual. So while my husband and the children settle in for a boisterous game of Landslide (the 1971 Parker Brothers version, not the updated one), I excuse myself and hit the sheets at a mercifully early 9:15 p.m! I don't rise until almost 7:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve Day (that's almost 10--count them, 10--hours of sleep!)
After morning coffee and computer time, I make waffles for the family on our George Foreman grill (a really cool appliance that I need to use more often). Then we leave the dishes for later and settle in to listen to Lessons and Carols (I wrote about that here). Afterward my husband, a full-time Lutheran cantor, leaves the house to begin preparing for one of the most demanding 24-hour periods of his year (four worship services in 17 hours). The children and I spend the afternoon doing some last-minute housecleaning (so that the main level is nice for Christmas morning even if the master bedroom is a disaster because of all the clutter that has been relocated there). Then at about 3:30 I leave to pick up my mother and bring her to our house for the night as well as to do an emergency stop at Target for a few additional stocking stuffers.
Back at home, my mom, the kids and I have dinner together while my husband is at church leading the first of our three Christmas Eve worship services. At 6:15 the children and I leave for church (my mom stays home to nurse an ailing back) to ensure that the 12-year-old and I will arrive in time for 6:45 choir warm-up.
7:15 p.m. - 12-year-old daughter begins her a cappella solo on the first stanza of "Once in Royal David's City" (the traditional opening of the Lessons and Carols liturgy, which our church follows for this particular service). As the flute player intones the introduction to the hymn, I see a look of panic fly across my daughter's face, as her repeated efforts to turn on the cordless microphone in her hand prove to be in vain. I am equally unsuccessful, and the reason is soon apparent: the battery is dead. There is no time to run for a new battery, so in classic "the show must go on" fashion this seasoned children's choir veteran takes a deep breath and projects as best she can across our rather large sanctuary as the cross is processed down the center aisle. For once (and blessedly so), there are no babies crying, no whispered comments, and no noisy coughs or sneezes, as the assembly listens to the unamplified but still quite audible voice of a little girl's voice announcing the birth of the Saviour:
Once in royal David's city
Stood a lowly cattle shed
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for his bed.
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child.
The service continues with additional flute, brass, and children's choir offerings, including the traditional "Quempas Carol" (with traveling groups of children singing from opposite sides of the sanctuary) and the famous Willcocks descants on "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" and "O Come, All Ye Faithful" (as usual, I am completely unable to sing on those stanzas but instead find myself dissolving into blubbering sobs as I listen to the voices of the children sailing high above those of the assembly).
After worship the children and I return home, where there is only about an hour to spare before my oldest son and I need to return for the final service of the evening. I use that time to have a quick snack, chat with my mother, and get the 4-year-old ready for bed. Grandma will read him his stories and big Sis will tuck him in.
10:30 finds my son and me back at church warming up with the adult choir (directed by my husband). The final service of the evening (which will include my son's first solo using his newly acquired tenor voice) is a communion liturgy that ends with a candle-lighting ceremony. At this time the organ goes silent and as the choir sings "Silent Night" a cappella in German ("Stile Nacht"), ushers come forward to light the candles of worshippers seated on the aisles, and the flame is passed from one person to the next until the entire sanctuary is awash in candlelight. The singing (now in English) continues, accompanied by flute, piano, and accordion. Sitting at the piano, I am able to look out across the congregation and see face after face lit in candlelight, singing of the birth of the Saviour, and it strikes me that this moment is truly a foretaste of the feast to come, when all the saints shall sing together at the throne of the Lamb. Worshippers begin filing out of the sanctuary, still holding their candles, and the music doesn't stop until all have departed.
Church goes long, but no one seems to mind, and it is after 1:00 a.m. by the time my son and I arrive at home. I upload my previously prepared Christmas blog post, greet my husband (who had to stay behind a while longer to set up for the morning), fill the stockings and set out the 4-year-old's "Santa" gifts, falling into bed shortly before 2:00 a.m.
Christmas morning, 7:00 a.m. - The alarm goes off, indicating it is time to get ready for Christmas Day worship. This time my son gets to sleep in while my daughter returns to church to provide piano music for the prelude ("I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In"). Worship is preceded by a Christmas Hymn Sing and again includes Communion. My husband says that the simplicity and quiet of Christmas morning is his opportunity to truly worship without the pressure and demands of the night before.
After worship we return home for a late breakfast/early lunch and present opening! The 4-year-old has spent the morning playing with his "Santa" gifts (when his grandma saw him playing with one of them and exclaimed, "Oh, is that from Santa?" his response was, "No, from Mommy.") Our tradition is to start with the youngest and move to the oldest, taking turns opening gifts one at a time so that we can all share in the recipient's pleasure. My husband and I, fading quickly from lack of sleep, enjoy another cup of coffee. But finally, we retire for a much needed afternoon nap.
Christmas dinner consists of an exceedingly rare treat--filet mignon--along with asparagus, sweet potatoes, and Caesar salad. Dessert is a French Silk pie courtesy of Market Day (you think I had time to cook this week?). While the children clean up, I drive my mother home, and when I return discover that the 4-year-old has fallen asleep. We put him to bed and wrap up the day by watching "It's a Wonderful Life" for the first time with our children, and in good home school fashion stop several times for commentary, including a lengthy lecture on economics and the stock market crash following the scene depicting the run on the bank.
After the movie I do some end of day picking up and then go upstairs to find my daughter looking at her hamster cage with a look of bewilderment. "What's wrong, honey?" "I don't know . . . I think something's wrong with Stormy." The hamster, advanced in age, is dead, having apparently breathed her last sometime during the day. After some sobs and hugs, I find a decorative satin-lined gift box that is just about the right size for a hamster. We will have a burial in the morning.