The most exciting day of my year is Christmas Eve. It always starts out with a bang.
This year was fairly typical. I left the house early for some last-minute gift shopping, grocery store errands, and one final trip to the mall to gather up my retail-working daughters. We always meet at the big statue of the horse, and as I waited in his friendly shadow, I wished him a Merry Christmas too.
Of course, the Christmas Eve traffic and crowds are madness, but I enjoy the hustle and bustle; there's something that bonds us all together on this day more than any other. We strangers and fellow shoppers share the anticipation of Christmas Day, and I feel a special kinship to everyone I meet.
Then it's home to wrap up the remaining presents, and tidy up the house. At this point, I usually feel stressed and anxious that there will never be enough time to get everything done.
As afternoon darkens into evening, I shift gears into dinner mode.
For Christmas Eve dinner, we traditionally make a meal of our favorite appetizers and finger foods - barbecued meatballs, egg rolls, bagel pizzas, and of course, pigs in a blanket. This menu not only pleases everyone, but is quick and simple to prepare. And for this one day of the year, we eat standing around the counter in our kitchen. I feel myself begin to slow down and relax, and dark falls and the magic of the day unfolds.
My favorite part of Christmas Eve is getting dressed up after dinner and going to evening worship. The stresses of the day and the season all fall away, and the singular miracle of Jesus' birth is all that matters. Emmanuel, God is with us.
My favorite part of Christmas Eve worship is when we light candles and sing the final carols.
And my favorite song is Silent Night.
This is the high point of my holiday, the moment in which the crazy Ferris wheel of Christmas reaches the very top of its circuit, and pauses gently, silently in the dark evening sky to let me breathe in the blessings of this holy day. This is the timeless moment - I feel exactly the same, year after year after year - when the true spirit of Christmas fills my heart and mind, and everything makes perfect sense.
Back at home, I light more candles, to keep the light burning in the darkness, My daughters open a few gifts, we finish arranging our nativity scenes, and then drink some hot cocoa while we read The Night Before Christmas.
These too, though less sacred, are precious and tender traditions in our family.
And while the others head off to bed, I'm not done yet. For mothers, late Christmas Eve is a time of secrets and mystery; we are guardians of many traditions and rituals that take shape in the wee hours. I feel a special fellowship to other mothers whom I know are tiptoeing quietly about their own homes as I do the same. I think of Mary, who was undoubtedly awake with her little babe in the dark of the night as well. We mothers have things to do in the middle of the night, and that is a tender part of my special day as well.
When the morning comes, and Christmas Day arrives in her joyful and triumphant fullness, that is a glorious time too. But my heart most truly belongs to Christmas Eve.