"The bells have been rung, the candles are lit, the tree is glowing with light, and Jesus is snug in his manger. Now we sit down to eat."
Christmas Eve in the Home
Because I am a minister, our home must pay close attention to time on Christmas Eve. Late in the afternoon... our family gathers around the kitchen table to begin our Christmas Eve ritual. Everyone has already showered and dressed for the evening. Because they have so much to look forward to on this night, we never have a problem motivating our children to be ready on time. What follows are traditions we share each year. These are easily adapted to a later time of the night.
Sleigh Bells and Christ Candle
On Christmas Eve, it's time to embellish family worship family worship with new sounds and rituals. The four Advent candles have been burning for a month, waiting to be joined by the light of the Christ candle. Tonight the new flame will be added!
Before lighting any candle, we shake a set of sleigh bells so their sound echoes throughout the house. The bells have not been heard since last December 24th, but it is time to announce the transition from Advent to Christmas. (In our home, the bell ringing it a high honor that must be shared among our children from year to year.) After the bells, we light all the Advent wreath candles – the Christ candle last.
"Noel! Christ is born for us!" speaks a child.
"Noel! O come, let us adore him!" reply the rest of us.
Then sing one verse of favorite Christmas carol; choose one everybody knows by heart.
Placing Jesus in the Creche
It is time to place the baby Jesus in the manger. For this occasion, it would be good for a child to read – or have read to him or her – the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke (2:1-7), using a favorite version of the Bible or a children's Bible. When the figure of the baby Jesus is placed in the manger, a prayer, such as the following, might be prayed in unison:
Marvelous God who fills this night with wonder,
We have arrived to welcome Jesus' birth.
With cattle and shepherds we honor your gift.
May his presence warm our hearts
with tenderness enough for everyone we meet.
And keep us always in your joy.
Christmas Eve Meal Blessing
The bells have been rung, the candles are lit, the tree is glowing with light, and Jesus is snug in his manger. Now we sit down to eat.
Our Christmas Eve ritual requires that we move from room to room, processing from the table through the house, and back to the table again. This is not an evening to fuss over elaborate dinner or one that will suffer from waiting for the ritual's completion. When we are seated for the Christmas Eve meal, one or all of us offer a prayer suited to the occasion.
Jesus our Savior, You are welcome here.
With animals and angels we sing your praise.
Fill us with joy for your gifts of love,
given to all who hunger and thirst for your salvation.
Warm our table with your presence
that this meal may be a taste of all good things to come.
Through Jesus Christ, the light of the world.
David B. Batchelder is the pastor at West Plano Presbyterian Church in Texas. He is the author of numerous articles on worship and liturgy. He is also a husband and father of four children.
The above article is an excerpt from All Through the Day, All Through the Year by David B. Batchelder (Augsburg Books 2000). The book is currently out of print, but widely available used.