This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.
While I am not a religious person, members of my family are and so church, more specifically the Roman Catholic church, has played a part in my upbringing. I have to admit that for all my issues with the sexual abuse cover-ups, the amount of tax free money churches generate, and my blatant disbelief in a higher being, I love to attend a church service for Christmas (or Easter or Ash Wednesday, any of the big ones, really). I love to see the place all decked out for the season with candles everywhere. It's beautiful and calm inside a church at Christmas.
Midnight Mass was the best: no kids making a fuss while the sermon was being delivered and dark enough that no one noticed if I fell asleep in the back row after the first five minutes. Midnight mass in Alberta meant walking back to my grandparents, snow crunching underfoot, while my stepdad picked out constellations twinkling above us. It was the best part of Christmas. The hustle and bustle of our Christmas meals for roughly 30 family members were all done, and it was our moment of calm before the hustle and bustle of Christmas morning.
In Switzerland, I attended Christmas Eve Mass with Michael's family. We merrily stumbled down the village lanes, drunk on joy and wine, towards the tiny 15th century church. From every direction, walkers joined us in the short pilgrimage. The inside of the church was lit only by candles placed throughout the nave. Up by the alter stood the towering tree, decked out with candles and nothing else. It was breathtaking in its simplicity.
As we left the church, we were given short white candles which the priest then lit with one of the alter candles. We walked back the way we came, cheering a chorus of Froehe Weihnachten to the groups of twos and threes who left us along the way to head to their own houses until we were the ones receiving the cheer. Once settled in the house with hot beverages and a roaring fire, we used the candles from the church to light the candles on the Christmas tree.