Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas Eve in Tucson

What do you do when you're in Tucson for Christmas all on your own? No family nearby, no one came to visit, and you didn't go to visit anyone, either?

Our little family was in that situation this year, so we did our best to find out.

In the weeks before Christmas, I had been thinking about attending some kind of midnight mass service. Mormons are strange in that the one day they don't have church is on Christmas, even though basically every other Christian denomination does. If Christmas happens to fall on a Sunday, we get out of 2 of the 3 hours of church. In other words, we attend less church, not more.

So we were free to explore the range of neighborhood Christmas Eve services available. In the middle of my pondering, we received a mailing from the local Presbyterian church, advertising their Christmas Eve programs. Specifically, there was a 7pm "Carols, candle-lighting, and a lively drama" event. It sounded perfect (assuming "lively drama" meant "some kind of Nativity re-enactment"), so we went.

I don't know how many of you attend church, or if you do attend church, how often you visit the services of another denomination, but it's kind of a scary thing to do. We didn't know how to dress, or where to park, or which door to go in, or if small children would be smiled/frowned upon, etc. All those unwritten rules take time to learn and in our own congregation, it's something we don't even need to think about.

Once we figured it all out - well enough, anyway - we settled down in the beautiful chapel and shook hands with our Presbyterian pew-neighbors. The service was great at first. We sang songs, said a few prayers, and followed along in Luke 2 as some scriptures were read over the pulpit. Nothing too out of the ordinary.

Then one of the ministers got up and gave a substantial speech about offerings. It was a little out of the ordinary, at least for us Mormons, and certainly for a Christmas Eve service, but whatever. I was still really enjoying myself in a beautiful church on a wonderful Christmas Eve, glad to be focusing some time on the story of the Nativity.

Then came the "lively drama" mentioned on the invitation. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but it surely wasn't a rowdy production put on by the youth of the congregation mimicking the format of a late-night talk show. At that point, we kind of wanted to leave because that wasn't why we were there, but we didn't know if leaving early was allowed, or incredibly rude, or if the talk show was going to end in a minute and we should just stick it out, or what. We ended up staying for at least 15 minutes of the talk show and no end was in sight. So Jeremy slipped out with Magdalena and then I left with Miriam a few minutes later.

I was sad to have to leave early. As we walked out to the car, I realized that if we wanted a nice, traditional Christmas Eve service, we should have picked a stolid old Catholic church to go to. The Presbyterian church was wonderful, it's just that its focus was more "pop-y" and modern, meant more to entertain rather than to inspire worship.

But by then it was already past 8 o'clock, so we took our candles home and lit them there while reading the Christmas story out of Luke 2 by ourselves.

I'm still glad we went to some kind of Christmas Eve church service, even if it didn't quite meet my expectations. It's good to venture out into the unknown every once in a while and appreciate the way other churches do things.

(Are people back to reading blogs again? I feel like everyone is just taking a break, if not from commenting, at least from posting.)


Aimee said...

Ha ha, your aside made me laugh, as I feel like I have two weeks worth of blogging to do in order to catch up and a full week of reading to catch up on!

I am sorry your Christmas Eve foray was underwhelming. I can honestly say that of all the Christmas Eve services I have attended none have been like that, nor do I think they should be like that. If you decide to make a tradition of attending a Christmas Eve service (when away from family), I recommend a "traditional" service in a Methodist or Presbyterian church. The hymns, the candles, the nativity story should all be included. However, Catholic may be long and somewhat difficult to understand as it is steeped in, um, Catholic tradition. For many of the same hesitations you mentioned I declined going to Christmas Eve service in Germany, but already I am sad I missed it. Hope you have a Happy New Year!

Shannan said...

Another thing I like about you is how you are able to comment on different religions without being offensive - and that is a hardly line to walk and I think you do it wonderfully.
I don't know if you know this or not, but I grew up in the LDS church in SLC, UT so I am very familiar with LDS services vs. worship services of different faiths in the Christian church. For years, my husband and I attend a non-denominational church that did a fantastic production of Christmas Eve - it was like a show. They had the choir with robes, advent candle lighting, hymns, short dramas. Sadly I haven't been able to find one like that in a long time. YOu will find that many times, the people attending church on Christmas Eve at Christian churches are people that dont' usually attend on a regular basis and are just as clueless as you felt. Next time, ask around if you feel daring.

Bridget said...

I'm glad you say that, Shannan, because I was afraid I would come off as really negative toward other churches in this post. I don't mean that all Presbyterian churches have lame Christmas Eve services (as Aimee says, there are traditional ones out there) - just that this one was kind of a dud. Our own fault, I guess, for not doing our homework. The meeting you describe is exactly the kind of thing I was looking for.

I know a Catholic service would be a bit mystic, but we might give it a try next year. This time we'll do a little more research before committing ourselves to the all-important Christmas Eve service, though.

Liz Johnson said...

I'm still breaking from posting, but I am reading... on and off.

I always want to go to a Christmas Eve celebration and never know which one to pick. Next year we plan on staying home (FOR SURE THIS TIME) and going to the Christmas Eve services at the Notre Dame Basilica. I'm giddy at the thought.

Are there a bunch of Creche displays in your neighborhood? In a similar vein, there was a Protestant church in Tennessee that did a "Bethlehem Marketplace" every year that was amazing. They had Roman soldiers wandering, various shops and grape-pressing and such, and then at the very end in the corner was a mother with a baby in a stable. We got little crocheted stars at the ends and they are still our favorite Christmas ornaments. Anyways, I love it. If you're ever in the metropolitan Nashville area, check it out. :)

Hareega said...

I rarely go to Christmas eve services. I'm Antiochian Orthodox (more like Greek Orthodox) and I often go to the Catholic service. The service is a bit different, for example the hymns are different and there are absolutely no musical instruments of any kind at the Orthodox church. The Orthodox service is a bit longer (usually about 3 hours) that's why they have only one service on Sundays versus several for the Catholic church. Despite all that the faith itself is similar and that's why I don't mind going there, when it comes to things like baptizing my kids (I need to have kids first) or marriage I'll go with my original church.

On this Christmas eve I went to the Catholic church on Campbell and Speedway at about 11.30 pm thinking it will be a midnight service, but I saw people were leaving the church, so I just headed home and enjoyed my fancy Christmas eve dinner: A shrimp burrito and 2 Snickers bars.

Amanda said...

Tyler and I gave very serious thought to calling you guys on the day after Christmas to see if we could rustle up a mean game of Boggle or Trivial Pursuit, but I think I fell asleep, or there were crying children, or... you know. But we should get together sometime.

EmmySue said...

Just like you, we were alone without visiting family in town for Christmas eve. Alexis received a "little people" nativity set for her birthday so we just read Luke 2 and moved her little characters around to animate the story. I think it helped her understand better. Then we just sang songs and sent the kids to bed. Midnight services are pretty hard with kids that go to bed so early... and a mom who is ready to sleep too! Hope you had a Merry Christmas.

Julie said...

Bridget, we went to the service and organ recital at the National Cathedral on Christmas Day. It was very traditional, and despite the fact that the wiggling boys seemed to bother those around us (thus requiring a slip-out similar to yours), I was glad we went.


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