Silent Night… a ritual unlike any other

6a00d8357f3f2969e20192ab30ed93970dI love reading the memories of Christmas past and Hanukkah past, from the many posters on Facebook and my circle of friends.  I am blessed to hear how families would and continue decorate their trees,  or cut down their tree, and light the candles, or send out Christmas cards with the family year in review letter, or sing songs, or share a meal, or pass out gifts,  the secret Santa.  To do what was done to turn the act into a series of traditions or a ritual.  Perhaps you shared an Advent calendar.  Adding meaning beyond the actual event.  I read what you are your families do, every Christmas Season.

I makes me think back on all we use to do as a family from the Thanksgiving meal kick of to Christmas day meal.  I love to recall all the stuff we did together. the annual family traditions.

This is my families list……..           OK,  I am done.  Nothing comes to mind.  Nadda.  We did a tree, we passed out gifts, we ate two nice meals, enjoyed leftovers, watched football.  Activities yes.  But Rituals, memorials … Traditions, Blank.  I have nothing to share.  Nothing that marked or measured the Christmas season.

I did not miss these traditions growing up in a marginally dysfunctional and semi-loving family.   We did what we did.  I guess it is hard to know how you might miss something that never was.  Perhaps the Christmas television programming would be my personal tradition, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” And “Dickens’ Christmas Carol” were and still are among my favorites seasonal reminders.  For those from Kansas City, there is a drive to the Plaza to see the lights.  I liked looking at the Plaza lights, and still do.

But, since the traditions are few or none, there is little to miss.  The absence of tradition and ritual is not, after all, a form of abuse.  Traditions and rituals are reminders, the elements of remembrance.   Of joys and of sorrows. I honestly did not know I was without these reminders.  That is until I was 60 and unmarried, and without children, and Christmas was just a calendar date, and well you get the picture.  But I still love watching my friends with their traditions.

Let me make it clear, this is not a sad time for me by any stretch on my imagination.  There are just no great family traditions.  I am blessed that many of you have them to share.  I have wonderful Christmas memories, stories and fellowship with family and friends.  But no decades long traditions, passed from family member to family member, generations shared.

That being said, I did have one.   A Bob Fulton, would not miss tradition.   From the early 1960s, circa 1963, until many years later, there was the Late Evening Candle Light Communion service at Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City every Christmas Eve.  From grade school though college and years beyond, I would look forward to this special hour of worship and song, and choirs, and homily by Rev. Ted Nissen.

The Sanctuary I worshiped in burned down in a fire and has be rebuilt and replaced.  Rev. Ted has since passed to reside in heavenly places.  But I remember.  And nearly every Christmas Eve I search for a candlelight communion service in the city of my residence.  I am currently blessed by continuing this tradition at First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, OK.

I must confess, no Christmas Carols sung by a congregation have ever sounded better, than the ones song that evening by the hundreds of gathered pilgrims.  Some coming for their one of only two visits per year to the Church.  There are College students returning home.  Generational Families together.  Great organ music.  And the Candle Light communion.  And there are “orphans” such as I am, coming alone to relive, renew, reinvigorate a revival of Light and Remembrance. 

In 1963 and beyond, as I entered the sanctuary with fellow congregants, each of us was handed a program and a 4″ white candle with a little paper drip protector surrounding it.  And I would cradle that candle in my hand for an hour.  The warmth of my skin would soften the wax.  I must confess I would often make wax sculptures, small shapes this now mold-able taper.  But throughout the service I had such an air of expectation.  And as the service progressed,  came the anticipation of something I was so struck by after my first service that I eagerly awaited this moment every year for over a decade.  A ritual that is as alive in me today as it was 50 years ago.

The closing act.  There was in the center of the alter a large Advent candle lit in the front center of the cavernous sanctuary.  The candle was really unnoticed during the service.  Unnoticed and Unattended until THAT moment it was not.  And suddenly all electric lights were extinguished.  (In the early days, the darkened chapel did not even have the now required 24/7 lighted exit signs.)  There was on small light.  One candle.  Trust me, the church was dark.  The Rev. Ted would light his little 4″ candle from the large center alter candle.  Then Ted would light one candle of an Elder on his left and one candle of an Elder on his right.  And then there were four.  The center candle and three soon to be travelers.  In the background, the organ played “Silent Night.”  And the travelers left the stage to pass to the first pew at the center aisle to light the seated parishioner’s candles. And the light began to move through the chapel, outward and backward.  And the darkness was waning, and the light growing.  And the light of one joined the light of many, growing in brightness.  A striking brightness like I had not known before.  It is a Light that still burns in my spirit to this day.  And in my holiday memory.  I can feel the temperature rise in the room.  And the temperature did rise as over 400 candles were ignited.  And then, the Recessional, and we sung together..  Joy… oh Joy to the World.

And so once again I look to Christmas eve, and a single light, knowing that I celebrate a ritual of Light and Life.

John 1:4-5 ” In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.   The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

This is my Christmas memory, and the best of my traditions past.  May you know light and warmth during this time.  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s