One Christmas while I was still in the Air Force, I came home for what I expected would be a quiet holiday.
There were no young children in the family at that time so our custom was to go to midnight mass at Trinity Church on Christmas Eve then come home and open our presents after the service. That way we could all sleep in on Christmas day.
Midnight mass had become such a huge service at our church that on this particular year they had decided to have a family service earlier in the evening. We chose to attend the early service and enjoyed one of the most joyful celebrations of Christmas we’d ever experienced.
The normal processional was replaced with a telling of the Christmas story frequently interrupted by everyone singing appropriate carols. The first carol was “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and as the congregation sang, the angels – a small mob of pre-schoolers dressed as angels – marched down the aisle. Marching is what they were supposed to be doing, but that was forgotten as soon as they saw mommy or daddy and had to wave or say hi. Once they were all “settled” at the front of the church, the story continued and the next carol brought a group of slightly older children dressed as shepherds. More carols were sung as the oldest children performed the roles of the major characters and the pageant was complete. The actual service then began and the normal rituals were expedited somewhat as the children fidgeted up front. At the appropriate point, they all marched out to change from their costumes and have refreshments while the adults took communion. There was a joyful reunion of parents and children in the churchyard after the service.
As we walked back to the car we noticed a small group of people across the street chatting. One young man stood out because he wore a beret with holes punched through the felt and a strand of small twinkle lights poked through the holes. He had found some source of power and was standing there casually twinkling away. We found this quite amusing.
Back home, we all relaxed around the tree and began opening gifts.
Christmas day was always full of visitors. Neighbors would drop by with gifts – usually delicious baked goods – and we shared bags of citrus fruit from our trees. Christmas dinner was a group effort, but always a relaxed and enjoyable experience. There was time to stop and visit whenever a neighbor or friend dropped by. Our big meal was late afternoon and things were normally cleaned and put away by sunset.
This particular Christmas evening, we were all semi-comatose in front of the evening news when a car pulled into the driveway. It was several young adults Mom had befriended – she was always adopting strays – including the young man with the twinkle lights beret from the night before. Once everyone was introduced and settled, he plugged himself in and was soon twinkling away. It was most festive! Twinkle Lights was actually quite articulate and an interesting addition to the conversation. We were so engrossed that we didn’t notice another car pulling into the driveway until the occupants stepped onto the porch. I looked up to see one of Mom’s friends with her husband and another couple I didn’t recognize. She was staring at Twinkle Lights through the glass front door and I could see the shocked look on her face. You could see that she was considering a quick retreat. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and the group was soon finding Twinkle Lights and his friends as fun and fascinating as we did.
Mom had a gift for bringing disparate groups together and this Christmas evening was just another example. Although this was not a Big Christmas in the sense of large family gatherings or large events, it was very special. Thirty years later the images of those little angels marching down the aisle and the young man with the twinkling beret are still vivid memories.
Originally published December 2011.