Of all the old festivals, however, that of Christmas awakens the strongest and most heartfelt associations. There is a tone of solemn and sacred feeling that blends with our conviviality, and lifts the spirit to a state of hallowed and elevated enjoyment. The services of the church about this season are extremely tender and inspiring. They dwell on the beautiful story of the origin of our faith, and the pastoral scenes that accompanied its announcement. They gradually increase in fervour and pathos during the season of Advent, until they break forth in full jubilee on the morning that brought peace and good-will to men. I do not know a grander effect of music on the moral feelings than to hear the full choir and the pealing organ performing a Christmas anthem in a cathedral, and filling every part of the vast pile with triumphant harmony.
It is a beautiful arrangement, also, derived from days of yore, that this festival, which commemorates the announcement of the religion of peace and love, has been made the season for gathering together of family connections, and drawing closer again those bands of kindred hearts which the cares and pleasures and sorrows of the world are continually operating to cast loose; of calling back the children of a family who have launched forth in life, and wandered widely asunder, once more to assemble about the paternal hearth, that rallying-place of the affections, there to grow young and loving again among the endearing mementoes of childhood.Washington Irving, “Christmas” from The Project Gutenberg eBook
In my home, Christmas is the supreme holiday. I believe it started with my father-in-law John J McCue who created the character Heinrich Humperdink, the chief elf of Santa’s workshop. Jerry, as he was known to friends and family, penned Heinrich letters to his children all year long telling stories about the North Pole that included elfin characters like Bumpy Roundbennow, David Dimplebottom, Bandylegs, Horace Hayfork, & Ernest Oilcan, the chief engineer who kept the boilers running in the workshop. In these letters Heinrick would let the children know he was watching them and he would admonish them to be good girls and boys. In the weeks leading up to Christmas my mother-in-law would go outside of the house and ring a bell. This was a signal to the children that Heinrick was coming. In the morning they would find little gifts on their pillows. If there was snow on the rooftops the children would be able to see Heinrick’s tiny footprints outside their window. We still have (and use) the wooden foot-print pole Jerry made and it makes me laugh to think about him tiptoeing into the bedrooms in the dark to lean out of the window and stamp the little foot-steps in the snow. All of this was to build anticipation for Christmas. In the absence of his father, my husband Kerin took up the mantle and penned many letters to our children and nieces and nephews over the years. It’s a tradition that broadens the Christmas season and celebrates the memory of a kind man and loving father who is no longer with us.
Several years ago, when I started attending the Reformed Church the Tarrytowns, we added a new tradition to our Christmas celebration – attending Christmas Eve services at the Old Dutch Church. There is a quiet in this old stone building that embraces you when you cross the threshold. The decoration and furnishings are simple. Candles provide the only light with an old box stove the only source of heat. After all of the hustle and bustle with shopping, choir practices, holiday parties and Christmas pageants, the church offers a place to calm down, reflect, and remember. More importantly, it offers us a place to come together as a community and listen to the stories that still give meaning to our lives. As we leave the church under starry skies, we linger a while to share our rediscovered joy with one another knowing that we have a duty to share that joy with others. Because no matter what our family traditions are around the holiday, they all began when the angel announced: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”