It's Christmas Eve, a day I wait for all year long, because it's my favorite day of the year. I enjoy it, I revel in it, and I reflect on it, more than any other.
Christmas Eve is a time of memories for me. The smell of the live Christmas trees we had when I was a child, decorated with the big colored bulbs and the glass ornaments, some of which were old favorites and treated very gently because they were part of our tradition. There were presents under the tree, and I dare say I am not the only child who risked sneaking underneath to shake a few boxes to see if I could figure out what was in them. As I got older I still shook the boxes occasionally, but it was more important for me to make the tree bright and colorful. It still part of how I celebrate Christmas, even though the tree is much smaller, and, unfortunately, is artificial.
One thing I remember about Christmas growing up was that in our neighborhood it was the custom to put a candle in each window of the house, at least the front windows of the house, and light them every evening. I'm not sure whether it was a colonial custom or not, but if you went to Williamsburg during the Christmas season, every window on Duke of Gloucester Street in the Historic District would have a candle in it. Okay, they were electric candles, but there were still real enough to make them a very special part of Christmas for me. Since we are celebrating the birth of the light of the world, it only seems fitting that we would have candles as an important part of our commemoration of his birth. After all, the place of that birth wasn't exactly lit up like Broadway.
Christmas Eve was a time to go to church. No matter what denomination you were, and even if you never went more than once a year, it was always on Christmas Eve. Our little church across the street from where I lived had what they called a candlelight service at 7 o'clock every Christmas Eve. It was dark out then and usually pretty brisk, temperature wise. But as I walked toward the church, I could see a candle in each window, a light welcoming the traveler and the congregant alike. Most of the service was done with very low lighting as we sang the traditional carols and read the traditional story of what this night is all about. It was a really special time, and, walking home afterwards, the stars never seemed brighter or clearer than they were on Christmas Eve.
Churches still feature candles on Christmas, and many of them use candles throughout the year as reminders of the light of the world. The Baptismal candle stands tall and proud, flame dancing in the tiny eddies of air that pass by it. The torches carried by the acolytes mark the procession that begins and ends the service as well as light the Gospel as it is read to the people. There are the Eucharistic candles that promise the Eucharistic meal shared by family of God. There are the tiny twinkling candles in the chapel, marking the prayers of those with special intentions or needs, and perhaps candles on the ends of the pews glowing in their clear hurricane globes. Then there is the little red lamp with a candle inside near the sanctuary that tells us that the body and blood of Christ present among us and blessed for our use.
Whether or not Jesus was born in an actual manger like we picture it, and whether it was December or April when he was born, the anticipation of his birth is a season of celebration, light, music, families being together, and good food and drink. Unfortunately, this is not the picture many of our fellow citizens of the world, a number of them Christian, have of Christmas. For them there may be no tree, no lights, no feast, no presence, no family. There are those who are wrapped in darkness in their own minds because of ill health, family tragedies, scars of wars and abuse, and a number of other things that make Christmas less than a joyous event. For them it's difficult to celebrate the birth of someone who seems so far away sometimes. It's always a good thing when families and churches together try to aid those for whom Christmas is a blue season, and that too is part of our tradition. Still, in our own homes, in and of our own plenty, we need to remember those who are suffering, often in silence, because there is no one there to hear them or care.
If there was one thing we could do to brighten the world this Christmas Eve maybe it would be to light a candle and put it in the window. That's always been a signal that someone is inside waiting, and the candle is a beacon for those in need to knock on the door and find shelter, warmth, and acceptance. If every window had a candle in it, think with the statement that would make. To me it would be far more impressive than the multi-gazillion lights fixed in and on homes and yards of those who go wild with Christmas spirit, and whose electric bills probably could feed a family of four for a year. Yes, those houses are fun for us to look at, they take us out of ourselves, and make us all kind of like children again, seeing the brightness and movement. But little things, like putting one small candle in the window, could be a signal to a lost person that someone is there and caring. That might make make someone's blue Christmas a few shades lighter.
Today and especially this evening, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, with all the blessings of the season and all the joy of the celebrations. May your homes be warm and your relationships even warmer. Made those who feel left out or sad for whatever reason find comfort in this evening. May there be peace, just for one night, in this world. May all children go to sleep tonight feeling full of food, safe and loved. May we each have a light glimmering in our window as a sign that the celebration is not about material things, but about the spirit of giving and loving, just as Jesus came to be born in this world to bring those things to all of us.
A blessed Christmas Eve to you all.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Cafe Saturday, December 24, 2016.