The memories of Christmas Eve during my childhood are hard to beat. The church I was raised in was a small community that knew how to celebrate the Christmas season. Each year, the church hosted a very well attended night of Christmas caroling in the church’s neighborhood. We would all bundle up on a freezing night, and the pastor’s wife would lead us in singing as we went door to door. The night would end with homemade cookies and hot drinks at the pastor’s home.
Every kid in the church had a part in the nativity play. I remember all the church women working with us on our lines, directing every scene, and altering the costumes to fit properly. It was always a full production with plenty of fuss and stage makeup. When I think back to this yearly performance, it makes me smile. My siblings and I played many roles over the years, from wise men, sheep, angels, and shepherds.
The season of Advent was an important observance in our church. The Advent wreath would be at the front of the church four Sundays before Christmas. Each week a family would read the passage of scripture and light the candle. In such a small community, we knew each family, so I enjoyed seeing our friends share in the service, and our family had the opportunity to participate as well.
Christmas Eve candlelight service was the culmination of all this season’s celebrations. The service was quaint and meaningful. On Christmas Eve, our family went to an evening service where the nativity story was read from the Bible, the Christ candle was lit on the Advent wreath, and all the best Christmas hymns were sung. The service concluded by each one of us holding a small candle while all the congregation sang “Silent Night” acapella. These are the memories I treasure from my childhood church and want to emulate for my girls.
I appreciated the Advent wreath tradition and knew I wanted to pause on Sunday evenings as a family and focus on the Christmas season’s meaning. This tradition has looked different as our girls have gotten older and can participate in more meaningful ways. Our Advent candles are in a farmhouse crate we display in our living room.
Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas, so in 2020 we will start our first week of Advent on Sunday, Nov 29. That night we will talk about the meaning of that week’s candle, read the Scripture verses as a family, and light the first purple candle. Three purple candles symbolize prayer, fasting, and sacrifice. The one pink candle symbolizes joy and is lit on the third week of Advent. The last white candle is the Christ candle, which symbolizes the pure, sinless life of Jesus.
Meaning of the Advent Candles
- Hope (1st Purple Candle): This candle represents the hope the people of Israel had of a Messiah coming to save them. Jeremiah 33:14-16
- Peace (2nd Purple Candle): This week, we focus on how peace enters our lives when we experience the presence of Jesus. Isaiah 40:1-11
- Joy (Pink Candle): This candle reminds us of the joy the angels proclaimed at the birth of Jesus. Isaiah 9:6-7
- Love (3rd Purple Candle): The love of God is given to us by the gift of His son, Jesus. We lit this candle to remind us that God loves us. Luke 2:10-14
- Christ (White Candle): We lite the final candle on Christmas Eve after we get home from our church service. Luke 2:1-20
After a month of anticipation, Christmas Eve service feels like the beginning of the celebration. Out-of-town family has gathered together, everyone is decked out in their Christmas outfits, and we all head to Christmas Eve service. Our girls have never experienced a candlelight service like I had in my childhood but service is an essential part of our Christmas celebration.
Christmas Eve dinner is our formal family meal of the season. However, we never knew what the meal was going to be, it was never a traditional turkey or ham with mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and winter vegetables. That was and still is only served on Thanksgiving.
One infamous Christmas Eve, the main dish was a miss. It wasn’t just a so-so dish; it was so bad that we all went to bed hungry. The recipe my mom, who is known for her great cooking, baked up was a Martha Stewart special. The main course was a strata, which all of my siblings and I now think is bread and mayonnaise baked together. I have never eaten another strata in my life. Thankfully, we don’t take ourselves too seriously, so we all just had a good laugh and decided that fondue would be our go-to Christmas Eve meal.
Christmas Eve Fondue
Fondue is a simple meal to serve on Christmas Eve since all the prep work can be done in the morning or even a few days before. It is quick to pull out all the essentials for the first course: the cut-up vegetables, bread, and Trader Joe’s Cheese Fondue since everyone is hungry after the service. Our evening of fondue includes all three courses:
- Cheese: Broccoli, Cauliflower, Granny Smith Apples, and Country Bread
- Beef Broth: Chicken, Steak, Mushrooms, and Potatoes with dips for flavoring
- Chocolate: Strawberries, Bananas, Marshmallows, Pretzels, Cinnamon Pound Cake, Gingersnaps
After spending a whole month anticipating the birth of Jesus, the night before Christmas is the final day of waiting, the expectation of hearing the good news that our Savior has been born is palpable in our home. I love tucking the girls into bed on Christmas Eve after eating fondue with family, opening Christmas pajamas, and lighting the last Advent candle.
Christmas Eve is hands down my favorite day. My childhood memories are still unmatched, but that might be the enhancement of a child. I hope that each simple Advent tradition in our family will be sweet memories for our girls.
What Christmas traditions from your childhood do you incorporate in your home?
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