Christmas Day 2011 has arrived at last! It seems like it took longer to get here this year than in recent years. I can remember when it took forever. But in recent years, not so much.
I can remember as a child, spending hours sitting in a chair next to the tree, gazing at the ornaments and looking forward to the big day. Sure, I was the all American kid; I looked forward to the spoils of Santa’s pending visit, reveling in the middle of the living room floor surrounded by toys, unwrapping the presents from my family. As I grew a little older, and was in the children’s choir, I loved rehearsing the Christmas carols in preparation for singing them Christmas morning. I will never forget being in the choir loft, looking down on the congregation drenched in the early morning sunlight and surrounded by the strains of “Joy to the World”, “Ave Maria” and “Silent Night”.
Later on, I became an altar boy and moved from the back of the church to the front where the altar is. My Christmas experience moved from early morning to Midnight Mass. Midnight Mass was always a High mass full of ceremony and the pageantry that I always associate with the holidays. The first year I was assigned the responsibility of carrying the censer. In case you don’t know what that is, it is the vessel on the end of a chain that is used for burning incense. You had to be careful of it because it contained a piece of burning charcoal upon which the incense was spread. This meant that it was very hot. And you had to be careful that you didn’t let the chain slip into it when you set it down. I had skin in this because both I and the priest had to handle the chain itself at different parts of the service. I will never forget the smell of the burning incense.
Eventually, I was promoted to the position of “Master of Ceremonies”. That sounds really important but what it really meant was that I got to carry the Missal and assist the Priest in the “Saying of the Mass”. Speaking of which, this was back in the days when the Mass was still said in Latin. Initially I learned the altar boy responses phonetically, but by this time I actually was able to translate back and forth from Latin to English. There is no experience that can quite compare to being a part of Midnight Mass, surrounded by family, school mates, friends and fellow parishioners. The warmth, peace and good will flow out into the mid night chill and carry you home and into bed to sleep until Christmas Day dawns.
I come from a big family that always got together for Christmas dinner. The host family rotated among us and we would descend on the home, bearing presents and our food contribution to the meal. We would eat till we were stuffed, then open the presents. Then it was up to the kids to clear the table, wash the dishes then get outside and let the older generation digest their meals in peace. Now remember, I grew up in Florida. Most Christmases were clear and mild. Rarely, one or two of them had temperatures into the 80s. It was on one of those days that we all jumped into my cousin’s swimming pool. Yes – swimming on Christmas day. This was before the polar bear clubs and it was a great experience, not cold at all.
I also remember as a young top 40 DJ working in a rock and roll radio station playing those classic Christmas music and new Christmas songs sung by the popular artists of the day. Who can forget Gene Autry’s “Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer” mixed with Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”? Those were special times and the music still lives today along with the new classics that have come along since then. As I get older, I realize that each Christmas season is richer than the one past, for I have more memories and new friends to go along with the ones that I’ve had since childhood. May the peace of the season be with you and yours. Oh MY!