By Jenna DeWitt: CNJ staff writer
For many Christians, the Christmas holiday would not be complete without celebrating with their faith community.
Some Christian denominations have weeks, even a month, centered on celebrating the birth of Christ. For Episcopalians and other churches that follow the liturgy, Christmas Eve is just the start of the 12-day-long Christmas season.
According to the Rev. Benjamin Wright, rector of St. James Episcopal Church, the 12 days end with Epiphany on Jan. 6, when his church celebrates the three wise men visiting the baby Jesus.
Also, Christmas Eve is the end of the season of Advent, a month of anticipation of the birth of Christ.
“We don’t sing Christmas carols during Advent. We will sing them through the season after Christmas,” Wright said. “Advent is more penitential. We begin it by talking about the second coming of Christ. We go from the more somber season of Advent to joyful season of Christmas.”
At Parkland Baptist Church, associate pastor Wayne Boydstun said they “celebrate as a church family.”
“We just really keep it simple. Like most families, everyone is always welcome,” he said.
Lutherans can trace their Christmas traditions back to Germany more than 500 years ago.
However, Immanuel Lutheran Church pastor Scott Blazek said the Dec. 25 date was likely chosen by Emperor Constantine around 300 A.D. to eclipse pagan festivals. He said it is also a convenient time.
“It kind of brightens up the doldrums of winter,” he said.
Blazek said Immanuel Lutheran has a traditional candlelight service, “bringing light into a dark world,” on Christmas Eve.
“We pass the flame from the advent wreath,” he said. “From that one white candle, it passes through the whole church. Just before the benediction, I invite everybody to lift their candles above their heads. It illuminates the whole church.”
Pastor David Bachelor of Kingswood United Methodist Church said the church’s two candlelight services hold much importance to his congregation.
“The light of candles reminds us that we are an ancient people,” he said. “It reminds us of the Christians who had to hide their faith in the catacombs. Their only light was candles.”
The Rev. Sotero Sena from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church said he liked the candles’ symbolism of Jesus as the light of the world.
“It is very intense with a lot of Christmas carols and sacred music going on,” Sena said. “We celebrate the holy sacrifice of the Mass and pray for peace in the New Year. We keep our troops in prayer, especially for those who are at war.”
Sena said one of his church’s traditions is a children’s Mass. Children preparing for their First Communion next April, mostly third-graders, will re-enact the birth of Jesus.
“It is part of our upbringing,” he said. “What we are really doing is preparing for when he returns in glory, the long-awaited Messiah. All Christians remind ourselves that the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.”