I played and sang at "midnight Mass" last night. Now, unlike the years when I was raising my children, "midnight" is actually 9:00 PM. By midnight, everyone is back home, completing their Christmas celebrations in their own personal traditional ways. So it was that I showed up at the church at 8:00 PM with the idea I would have a few minutes to tune my guitar before the pre-Mass Christmas carols began at 8:30. To my surprise, the church was dark, and locked, permitting entry to nobody who did not hold a key. I thought this strange. Yes, I understand the earlier Mass had ended and those who would be returning for the midnight Mass had taken their opportunity to get a meal, locking up when they left the church. Still, on Christmas, I somehow thought it odd to find the doors locked.
I spent the 15 minutes I had to wait for a key-holder to arrive, chatting with our pianist, who had actually shown up an HOUR before I did, with the expectation of being able to set up his recording equipment to record the music. We had a nice, if cold, chat while we waited. Then it was the usual mad dash to get ready for the start of the caroling and we were underway.
The music was lovely, the service was lovely, and the tree was lovely. The tree, probably 12 feet tall, stood in its annual spot in a place between the alter and the choir. It struck me that this lovely tree, adorned with silver decorations and lit with white lights, was lacking a certain community feel it had always had in the years I was raising my children. I wondered about what had happened to that community tradition that had always presented a most gloriously adorned Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.
Back in those days, the late '80's and the '90's, the last Sunday of Advent a pot-luck, Christmas tree decorating, caroling, prayer session was held each year. Families of the parish would bring with them a home-made ornament with which to adorn the tree. Those attending this evening of preparation would decorate the walls of the church with the Christmas wreaths, prepare the little packets that would be handed out just before New Year's with which the parishioners would bless their homes, and set the food up for the feast we'd enjoy when the decorating and other preparations were complete. And the choir would lead caroling after a short prayer session. At the end of the evening, we'd leave the church, bellies full, hearts happy, and the community Christmas tree attesting to the hundreds of personal traditions that made our community tradition.
It has been three years since I actually was able to participate in Christmas Mass at our church, having been traveling each of those three years. So, I was surprised when I saw the very lovely tree, "decorated" in a very aesthetically pleasing manner... but missing that hodge-podge, that confused jumble of tiny-to-huge, hand-made ornaments, to which I had come accustomed. I suppose all things change. I suppose people have other things to do on that final Sunday of Advent. I suppose it IS just a tree, after all. And it really WAS a lovely tree. I just miss that other one.... those nearly 20 years of other ones....
Merry Christmas to all who happen by my post today. May your Christmas be filled with laughter, music, good food.