There’s nothing quite as special as Christmas Eve services. A darkened sanctuary lit with candles and the singing of Silent Night. The sacred anticipation of “Lessons and Carols.” The joy of a live nativity. The fun of a Christmas pageant. Worship centers crowded with families you see once a year. A festive feeling everywhere you look. No matter how you have celebrated Christmas in the past, Christmas 2020 won’t be the same. Instead, a socially distanced, mask-wearing or live-streaming experience is likely on your docket. With the losses and stresses of the year, it may even be a blue Christmas for you and your people.
Even with all the changes 2020 has wrought, you can still enjoy Christmas. In fact, this Christmas Eve may be your most memorable one yet.
When it comes to tradition, it’s the exception that proves the rule. This year will be the year to launch new traditions. Just as families and communities are figuring out how to get into the Christmas spirit in brand new ways, churches will be doing the same.
As you approach the fourth Sunday of Advent, and Christmas Eve draws closer, I’d like to share with you what we teach in Creating a Culture of Renewal when it comes to charting a new course. We call it connecting the dots. That includes a Christmas Eve you’ll always remember.
Customs and Traditions
First, connect customs and traditions of the past with the present. For instance, if Christmas Eve has meant candlelight services in your setting, invite people to supply their own candlelight during Zoom or live-streamed services. If the singing of Silent Night has been a staple during your Christmas Eve services, but group singing is not currently allowed in your setting, teach a set of simple movements to accompany a soloist that will allow people to participate without opening their mouths. Maybe you’ve conducted an annual service of Lessons and Carols but won’t be meeting in person or virtually. If so, an order of worship distributed to homes can give families the opportunity to bring the tradition home, and sanctify their own living spaces with these sacred scriptures and songs.
Second, identify the spiritual values that have guided your traditions. Perhaps spending time as a community in worship, putting children first, or being in ministry with the community have been your guiding principles. How do you find new ways to lift up these time honored practices? Look for new ways to share your connection.
My home church, which is not meeting face to face these days, is delivering simple origami projects each week of Advent to each household. While the project is delivered in a brown paper bag, the fact that it’s accompanied by a spontaneous porch visit makes it truly special. In this season of social distancing, these kinds of visits are a welcome break from the forced isolation of the pandemic.
Get Others On Board
Third, get other people on board with the new traditions you are starting. No one likes unnecessary change when it means ditching time-honored traditions. But these days, change is a given. Make it more fun, and more doable by gathering a team who can work on this together. Then, with unified voice, remind your congregants of the traditions you have practiced in the past. Be clear how they will need to be adapted this year. Finally, talk about how you’d like to create new traditions that capture your congregation’s values, connecting the past and the present.
Christmas Through Jewish Eyes
To help you appreciate the times we are in, join me for a spiritual retreat this week: Christmas through Jewish Eyes. We’ll be looking at the themes of the season—light, family, and salvation—from a brand new angle. I developed this retreat to encourage your heart, deepen your spiritual grounding, and gently expand the ways you approach familiar topics. I hope you’ll join me for this brief retreat.
Best Christmas Ever
This year will be different than Christmases past, no doubt. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be the best Christmas ever. In fact, next year, when you look back on Christmas 2020, it will be with a new perspective, and a new appreciation for whatever passes as normal next year. Who knows, but the ways you celebrate the holidays this year may become your best traditions yet. In the end, opening your hearts to Jesus, and your lives to the Holy Spirit, is what it’s all about anyway.