12 Days of Christmas Memories: Church

All dressed up for the Christmas program, 1988
All dressed up for the Christmas program, 1988

The heart of my childhood Christmas memories lies in the church.

Like all students at my Lutheran school, I participated in the annual Christmas program.  Beginning in mid-November, we spent extra time in music class practicing songs for the programs.  I remember the hymns we sang as a group, the special songs we practiced over and over, working hard as unto the Lord.  We also recited passages of Scripture as a group.  We memorized sections of Luke’s gospel during religion class.  When I hear those passages now, I am transported right back to my Christmas programs.

A week prior to the program, we practiced on risers in the church sanctuary.  For a heights-averse person like me, this provoked major anxiety.  I worried about falling down, passing out, or simply tripping on the risers.  This never happened in eight years, yet I worried because I wanted to do a good job.  These Christmas programs prepared me to be on point in front of a crowd.

Sometimes I was assigned an individual speaking or singing part.  My anxiety shot up, to be sure, but I valued that sense of responsibility.  One year my best friend and I sang a duet.  As shy as I was, I found joy in performing.  In my eighth grade year I was selected to walk down the center aisle with a small group of classmates, ringing handbells to “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  These assignments helped me gain confidence and grew my love for music.

I remember shopping for a special dress to wear.  The year I was in fifth grade, I wore an off-white satin dress covered in lace, which I adored.  Four classes, fifth through eighth grade, waited impatiently in the church basement before the performance.  We shushed each other—staying quiet was difficult, especially for the boys.  The much-anticipated night began when we marched up the steps.

When we entered the sanctuary and took our spots I smelled the tangy scent of fresh cut cedar trees behind us, decorated with glittered ornaments of Christian symbols.  The church was packed—a standing-room only crowd.  I minded my place on the risers, bending my knees a bit like the teachers told us so we wouldn’t faint.  The program progressed smoothly, just like we had practiced.

Relief flooded me at the end—the pressure was off.  We lined the aisles and sang “Joy to the World,” then returned to the basement to receive a gift from the church and school:  a paper sack with an apple, orange, peanuts, and chocolate candy.  Then Christmas break began!

Just as my grandparents’ house was a constant for me in my childhood, the church was a constant in my Christmas celebrations.  These programs solidified my connection of Christmas with the story of Jesus’ coming.  I knew nothing was more important than celebrating Christ in the Christmas season.

I am grateful for those Christmas memories at church.  And I enjoy watching my own children participate in the same programs now.

Question:  When you think of Christmas, which memories include church services or Christmas programs?

Blessings to you, Sarah

P.S. Today is Day 2 of 12 Days of Reader Tips for Christmas Peace.  Be sure to leave a comment on my related Facebook post with your tip!