Let's talk about memories for a moment. I am putting the finishing touches on the Christmas Eve service and I have to say...very little changes from year to year. In a way this is strange. Even in church we try to do different things each week. It would be unusual indeed for the hymns and the prayers to be the same every single Sunday! However, with Christmas Eve the opposite is the case. In fact, when changes are made they frequently don't even register. Sometimes we have had a sermon. Sometimes we haven't. Yet if you asked any member whether there is a sermon or not they would say that I never preach at that service.
This it true for other elements of the season. In yesterday's post I referenced a number of holiday movies. I can do that with confidence because the same ones are watched by so many people every year. We know them so well. Many know them better than the Bible story. The one big exception seems to be "Hallmark movies". There are new ones every year, which creates at least the illusion of variety. Even those follow a predictable arc. Food, music, decorations, and many other aspects of the season remain the same. What among the holiday trappings is timeless and essential varies, of course, with the person and the memory.
Now, there are also people who would rather walk across hot coals than replicate their childhood holidays. There are people who avoid their families. There are those who see variety as the best way to engage with the time. I suspect memory has something to do with that as well. If you never feel comfortable during the season, why the heck would you try to replicate it every year? I get that, too.
In fact, a little examination is good. Knowing why we do what we do helps us to understand ourselves and our reactions. Changing it up is important. We aren't merely in the quest for a "new tradition" either. Sometimes we just do a thing one time to see how it feels. Then--love it or hate it--we leave it where it is as a relic of a moment. It is OK to just do a thing once, even if we like it.
At Eliot there was the year we had a 9:30 PM folk service on Christmas Eve. It was half open-mic and half lessons and carols. The "9:30" was my idea. We had a group of high school students who were very much into music and who were getting ready to leave for college. I thought it would be fun just this one time.
In the end it was...a mixed bag. A few of us had worked and played--and preached--at the 5pm and 7pm services. Family members were annoyed because we had disturbed post-service rituals that had always been exactly the same.
Still, I think about it from time to time as a good memory. The church was dark and quiet. The small audience was appreciative. It was, in the end, a fun thing to do to end the Advent season. Would I do it again? Probably not. Yet it wasn't all bad....
Here is a video from that year. We are playing a Frank Turner song. The other person is former youth grouper and now friend, Walker Lambrecht. Occasionally we think of playing this in church again. So far the timing hasn't been quite right...
I am a full-time pastor in a small, progressive church in Massachusetts. This blog is about the non-church things I do to find spiritual sustenance.