Christmas very much at home

Perhaps you had other plans for the holidays this year. I certainly did–for the first time since my son’s first Christmas, I had hoped we’d spend Christmas in California visiting my mother, since I am no longer in parish ministry, with all the attendant seasonal responsibilities. However, my husband, our 17-year-old and I are in Brooklyn, in our tiny apartment (“It’s so cozy!” my Texas nephew, then 9, exclaimed on his first visit). It’s possible that we are getting on each other’s nerves a bit after 9 months at home.

How will we get in the spirit?

Some days I make a simmer pot to make the whole house smell Christmassy, with whatever I’ve got on hand: cranberries, orange halves or even orange peels, apple cores, fresh rosemary sprigs or pine trimmings, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves and star anise, or a tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice. Toss these things into a large pot, fill with water, and simmer all day long.

My husband gave me an early gift of comfortable ear buds so that I can listen to my favorite carols whenever I like without annoying him or distracting our high school senior. On December 24th, we will listen, with millions of others around the globe, to the annual radio broadcast of A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College Cambridge. This beloved tradition dates to 1918, and what a winter that must have been. The bidding prayer is always poignant, and the words “Let us remember before God all those who rejoice
with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light” will hold a deeper resonance this year.

I will also at some point watch my favorite Christmas Eve service ever, the 2016 Family Eucharist and Giant Puppet Nativity Parade at Trinity Church Wall Street, and you can, too. Being able to commission these puppets, designed and built by the very talented Lavinia Roberts and Cecilia Roberts, was such a privilege for me, and the entire service is a delight, with beautiful music from the Trinity Youth Chorus and a sweet homily by Hershey Mallette Stephens. If you just want to see the giant puppets and hear me narrate the Christmas story as told by Jerome Berryman in A Children’s Liturgy for Christmas Eve, that happens around the 10 minute 40 second mark. Trinity is a progressive, inclusive Episcopal church in the heart of lower Manhattan with a diverse congregation, a strong commitment to social justice, and a rich history. It’s also famous for being the hiding place of National Treasure as well as the burial places of Alexander Hamilton and Peter Parker in Into the Spider-Verse. When all this is over, come visit and I will happily give you a tour.

Cooking and eating seem to be what we mostly do for fun right now, and to show our love and care for one another. I’m baking and filling treat bags to share with friends and neighbors: snowflake-stamped cookies, honeycomb, chocolate cookies dipped in crunchy pearl sugar. While my husband will make a delicious dinner for Christmas Eve, I am responsible for and excited about brunch and a late afternoon tea on Christmas Day. Clearly, we are going to need to take plenty of walks. Walks are another way to feel connected–to each other, to our fellow humans, to nature, to God. We are lucky to live close to Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and one day between Christmas and New Year’s we’ve lined up a Zipcar so we can go further afield, to see the city “dressed in holiday style”, or take a drive to the countryside to walk in the snow. For our family, neighborhood evening walks also work well. Tonight we are excited to see the “great conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn that will be visible shortly after sunset, which may be the “star of wonder” that inspired the journey of the magi so long ago.

Right now I am profoundly grateful for the technology that will allow us to visit our loved ones and interact with our church community from a safe distance. I’m looking forward to a scavenger hunt over Zoom with my niece and nephew, video chats with my parents, Zoom Lessons and Carols (yes! another one!) and a Christmas movie watch party, assuming we can reach consensus on a Christmas movie. I’m thinking the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas might be just the ticket. Still, I am hoping Ella Fitzgerald had it right:

Next year all our troubles will be

Miles away

Once again as in olden days

Happy golden days of yore

Faithful friends who are dear to us

Will be near to us once more

Someday soon, we all will be together

If the Fates allow

Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow

So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, by Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane

Whatever happens, Christmas will come just the same, needing no ribbons or wrappings, nothing shiny or bright, just our hearts preparing room for God-with-us. Wishing you peace and a measure of joy, lovies…

Until January 6th, you can download this free family activity pack for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany from Church Publishing, where I am an editor and the formation specialist.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents, which makes a swell Christmas giftperhaps this year in particular.

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