The sanctuary of our small town church was packed for Christmas Eve services. Ushers pointed out single seats available, and neighbors squeezed in just a bit closer than is strictly comfortable for our Lutheran sensibilities. A peek over my shoulder confirmed that even the choir loft, usually home to a sole projectionist, was filled to capacity.
It was magical.
Families came in from the cold, brushing off stray flakes of snow, and greeting old friends with hearty welcomes. Generations of families returned to the "home church" for the traditional service of carols and that old familiar story from Luke.
When the lights dimmed, and the candles were lit, even the fussy children were calmed.
As Christmas memories go, seeing my church filled as I've never before remembered it, is one I'll treasure.
On Sunday morning, with frost clinging heavy to the trees, we made our way back to church.
This morning, the tree still glittered as brightly, the poinsettias added a block of brightness at the alter. The crowd, however, was gone.
The "old regulars" were there, making their way back to their "traditional" seating areas.
The Christmas magic, it seemed, had disappeared.
Those far-flung families were packing up and hitting the road after the Christmas festivities. Hugs goodbye replaced those joyous greetings of just a couple of days before. A full Christmas day of food and festivities had exhausted many. The chance to sleep in, recover from the excitement, trumped the trek to church. And many families continued to celebrate the holidays with their families.
The service was a reminder, however, that the magic of Christmas doesn't have to be condensed into just one day. We need to remember that while we work for weeks to ensure a "perfect" holiday, the message of Christ's birth is one of love. There's no reason to just celebrate that for a single day.
No one is certain of the exact date of Christ's birth. It was celebrated for a time in April and May. Not until an early Pope chose December 25 as Christmas did the holiday have a formal commemorative date.
Doesn't that seem fitting? Because we just don't know for sure when the Christ Child was born, shouldn't we live as though every day were Christmas?
While we couldn't sustain that high level of excitement all year around, and our diets couldn't sustain that type of eating, we certainly could extend that "goodwill to all."
The decorations may get packed up and tinsel vacuumed away, but the holiday spirit can remain forever in your heart.