A cherished memory from my childhood is the annual Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at my grandparents’ Methodist church. Every year my large family of many Christian denominations gathered here first before our family Christmas party. It was one of the rare occasions during the year we would all be at church together. We would fill multiple rows and all the cousins would scramble to sit next to each other during the service. We came dressed in our Christmas best, eyes glowing in full anticipation of the joy-filled evening ahead. As a young child, the service droned on forever, only slowing us down from the moment we could enjoy my aunt’s sugar cookies and the exchange of presents.
During my high school years, though, the ritual of gathering at the candlelight service took on a different meaning. The ritual of beginning our family Christmas celebration with the candlelight service year after year spoke profoundly to me about the importance and value of faith. The witness of what my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles held as the priority on Christmas Eve influenced me through college and into my adult years.
Now as a parent, living in a city away from my family, I hope to pass on this legacy of faith to my own children. I hope that they experience what I did in the rituals and traditions of my family’s faith that were part of my childhood. I hope that they understand the powerful meaning of the words of the song we sang at my grandparents’ church every year on Christmas Eve: “Emmanuel, Emmanuel. His name is called, Emmanuel. God with us, revealed in us. His name is called Emmanuel.” (Bob McGee)
As I sang those words every Christmas Eve with my large, extended family, I knew in my bones that God was with us and that God was in each of us. That is the legacy I hope to pass to my children—the understanding that God resides within them.