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Favorite Childhood Memory

Recently, I was asked to share my favorite childhood holiday memory. Hands down, Christmas Midnight Mass is it.

I would take a nap earlier in the day so I could stay awake. After all, getting to stay up late with the adults came only once a year! We dressed in our best outfit, sometimes new if we got the chance to open one early present from under the tree. We bundled up and made our way out into the cold and the dark when most people were already asleep.

When we got to the church, lights were shining from the inside like a beacon. Sometimes, a wayward snowflake would drift off nearby trees as we hurried along the sidewalk to the giant front doors. As we entered the narthex, the splendor of our grand church was made even brighter by the evergreen garlands, red ribbons, lace, poinsettias, and what seemed like glitter in the air to my child's eyes.

We hurried to our pew, kneeled to pray, and then sat in anticipation of the bells ringing. I'm sure I squirmed like every child before and after me. It was so hard to sit and listen as the choir sang beautiful, ancient Christmas hymns.

Finally, the bells would ring and we all stood up. Singing loud and proud as our music teacher taught me, I did the whole bob-and-weave thing to see around all the people taller than me, trying to get a glimpse of the procession. First came the thurible, wafting the odor of Christmas throughout the building. Suddenly, I could see him, the baby Jesus held high by Father. I had looked at that empty manger for 4 weeks, waiting for the baby Jesus to arrive. I'm pretty sure I squealed when I saw him. It really was magical and a cherished memory.

I add to this childhood memory, one from high school. After Mom and I had been sitting in the pew, listening and singing along with the Christmas carols, my aunt (her sister-in-law) hurriedly sat next to us. She'd made it just in time for the procession. Of course, with a standing room only Mass, she was lucky there was any room in the pew. And, with that many people, it heated up quickly. I noticed about halfway through the first reading, my aunt was still wearing her heavy coat. As we transitioned to the Responsorial Psalm, I leaned over and whispered there was room for her to take off her coat. She grinned and pulled back the edge to reveal she was in her pajamas. Shaking her head softly, she whispered she decided to come at the last minute and would keep her coat. I still smile warmly every time I think of her singing "Gloria, in excelsis Deo" in her pajamas.

May you create wonderful Christmas memories this year and revel in the memories of past celebrations. Merry Christmas!

Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of my childhood parish church so I'm using this picture I took of the Anthony Chapel at Garven Gardens in Hot Springs, AR decorated for Christmas. It is stunning.

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