Pageants and Purpose

The memories of my childhood Christmases include nighttime family gatherings, fancy dress coats, candlelight…and Christmas pageants.

The Christian school I attended had a pageant every year. No matter the theme of the show, the evening concluded with the entire elementary school singing excerpts from Handel’s Messiah. Quite an ambitious piece for 5 to 11 year olds with no formal training! Each grade was assigned a section (I remember loving the year I was old enough to sing the “wonderful counselor” portion) and we all came together to finish with the hallelujah chorus.

There was always a pause before the final hallelujah. We collectively held our breath until the director signaled it was time for the dramatic finale. That pause felt like an eternity, but it was maybe a couple seconds.

Then it was time. We drew in a gasp of air as the director raised his hands…and we let loose.

HAL-LE-LU-JAH!!!!!!!!!

We left it all on the stage. I remember being exhausted at the end as if I’d used up all my energy singing that one word.

It seems Advent is a lot like that pause. We’re holding our breath, waiting.

Christmas is that moment we inhale as the director’s eyes light up and we realize he’s about to give us the freedom to reach our full potential. It is the imbuing – the indwelling of love, grace, peace, and trust.

And then? For the rest of our lives we open the floodgates. We pour out of ourselves every bit of love and gratitude: for what has been done for us, for what we’ve done for others, and what we believe others can do. We finish the song of our lives spent, exhausted because we held nothing back. We loved fiercely, we celebrated unashamedly, we served tirelessly, and we journeyed collectively.

I wish I had a recording of one of those elementary pageants. I’m sure it did not sound as glorious to the audience as it did in my own ears. I bet it sounded like a bunch of kids projecting at the top of their lungs: a little off-key, but full of zeal. It wasn’t perfect, but I know it was heartfelt. That’s the way I want to live.

So maybe this year when you hear the hallelujah chorus you will think of this story and smile…and maybe you will be encouraged to live and love well.

Clinging to Christmas Eve

Do you ever find the Christmas season to be bittersweet?

To anyone who asks, I say that I love Christmas. I truly enjoy the season, but it doesn’t mean that things are always rosy.

As a child, Christmas was a magical time: full of candlelight, decorated trees, lots of family, and the celebration of Christ’s birth. Christmas Eve and Christmas day were filled with everyone and everything I loved. Even if the year wasn’t great for us, those two days felt right.

My childhood church didn’t have a Christmas Eve service, so we’d often find a midnight mass at a local Catholic church. I have fond memories of dozing in the pews snuggled in my dress-coat as we listened to the Hallelujah Chorus.

As I’ve aged, the struggles of life have etched lines that are impossible to ignore even in the happiest of seasons. Christmas has new meaning for me as an adult. I find myself in the quiet moments of Christmastime reflecting on our need for solace in hard times. “The hopes and fears of all the years” don’t disappear simply because it’s the season to deck the halls. The times of celebration are still full of wonder, but I also feel an ache for something more…something sustainable when the fanfare subsides.

The church I joined as an adult observes Advent. The focus on preparation and anticipation for the celebration of Christ’s birth is something I crave as I see the hurt in our world. The culmination of Advent is the Christmas Eve service, and in the final minutes of that service we sing Silent Night by candlelight. As the light is passed candle-by-candle, I feel closest to God. We are not alone.

Throughout the year when life is hard and dreary, I cling to the experience of Christmas Eve—the memory of individual lights joining together to illuminate the sanctuary. We don’t change the world alone; we do it together.

Shauna Niequist said, “Christmas is about sacred light cutting through the darkness—not about pretending the darkness isn’t there.”

So let’s cling to the light…and remind others of it’s warmth when life feels cold and dark.

Christmas Fun!

I have plans to write a semi-serious post about Christmas this weekend, but for now I’d like to have a little fun.

Some of my favorite parts of Christmas involve my family and general moments of silliness:

  • Dancing in our pajamas by the light of the Christmas tree.
  • Cooking a giant breakfast on Christmas Day with family and whoever else wanted a seat at the table.
  • Singing every word of Elvis’ Blue Christmas and Dean Martin’s Marshmallow World.
  • Staying up late on Christmas Eve, and waking up early on Christmas Day.
  • Driving around to look at houses all decked out in lights.

All of these memories/traditions have a soundtrack…because music is an essential element of my Christmas experience. As a little treat and a glimpse into my life, I’ve compiled a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite holiday tunes. The version of the song is important to me, so this playlist consists of the versions and artists that play a role in my Christmas celebration.

Enjoy!

The playlist is here.