I was talking with a friend of mine who’s a music director at a mainline Protestant church (no, not at a Unitarian Universalist congregation). “So do you have to work Christmas day?” I asked.
“Nope,” he said. “They’re not having services on Christmas day.”
“You’re kidding,” I said.
He was not kidding. “We’re not have services on January first either,” he said.
“I don’t understand churches that don’t have services when Christmas falls on a Sunday,” I said. “It’s the sabbath day, of course you have services.”
He nodded tolerantly at my ranting.
“You know,” I continued, “shutting down a church on Christmas day usually has nothing to do with theology, or with the liturgical calendar. It mostly has to do with the senior pastor’s convenience.”
He just grinned. “Maybe, but I’m just as glad,” he said. “It means I get to have two Sundays off in a row.”
“There is that,” I said. Though for my part, I like working when Christmas falls on a Sunday — the people who come to services really want to be there, and it’s always fun. (And yes, we are having services in Palo Alto at 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. on Christmas day, with the Forum at 9:00 and brunch at 10:30. Stop by if you’re in the area.)
Having grown up a New England Yankee in the Puritan heartland, there’s always a part of me that feels Christmas to be an abomination. It was my Puritan ancestors who made Christmas illegal for a short time in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. And the Puritan strain in me thinks there should be only one holy day, and that’s the sabbath, and adding any other holy day is idolatry or worse.
But I’m also the product of several generations of New England Unitarians. Unitarian Louisa May Alcott created the ideal for a liberal religious Christmas in her book Little Women: a home-based family celebration devoted to selfless giving, guilt, and helping others. Unitarian Edmund Hamilton Sears created the ideal for a liberal religious Christmas carol in “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”: a song where the Christmas story is really a story about peace, social justice, and a twinge of guilt upon feeling that you’re not doing enough to make the world a better place.
So I both hate Christmas, and like Christmas. It’s no wonder that when Christmas Day rolls around, I’m ready to ignore the holiday and go out for Chinese food.
There are some good carols that don’t appear in the Unitarian Universalist hymnal. One of my faves, “O Tannenbaum,” isn’t in the hymnal, and I realized that I had made a PDF file of the sheet music (with a decent English translation of the original German words), sized to fit on a half-sheet, perfect for an insert in an order of service. There’s probably someone out there who could use this PDF, so here it is:
“O Tannenbaum,” PDF file