COLUMN: Candlelit Christmas service a treasured holiday memory

 

Marg Johnson

Marg Johnson

Christmas can mean different things. It can be the worst day of the year, full of gift disappointment, unfulfilled dreams, loneliness, anger, sibling rivalry, and any combination of the above.

Or it can be a day filled with such joy and amazement you can’t hold it all.

When I was a child, weekly attendance at Central Baptist Church was not an option. We might be a little late (e.g., mom forgot her hat and we had to go back) but we were always there, on the right side of the church by the front window — the Andersons: four children, a mom and a dad.

When we moved up to a Sunday School grade on celebration Sunday, they always just called up “The Anderson kids” because our attendance was perfect.

Part of the Sunday School Christmas celebration was the distribution of handmade “Christ Child booklets.” Each contained Luke’s version of Christ’s birth and a small birthday candle. We were to light the candle and have someone read the story aloud. Four excited children would pile around dad with lit candles (even the toddler) and listen in awesome quiet as dad read the story, then sent us off to bed.

My favourite part, though, remains the Candlelight Service. Because of fire safety rules the arrangements have changed, but part of my heart still craves the lighting of what I used to call the cake candelabras. Three suspended wooden rings were collapsed and resting in the long centre aisle. Inside, small candles, each in its own foil cup, were nailed to the rings in descending order.

Oh, the joy of watching the men pull on the ropes, seeing the lit cake rings slowly rise and form the most spectacular array of light ever — and only for one night a year.

With the guttering candles hanging high above, and Mr. Hanmore’s deep voice singing O’ Holy Night from the pulpit, my Christmas dream was fulfilled.

Poinsettias in splashes of red surrounding the communion table and the swelling voices singing favoured hymns (Silent Night, Once in Royal David’s City) merely added to the panorama in my memory. To this day, whenever “O Holy Night” is sung by a bass soloist, I am immediately a child again, watching the lighting of the candelabras, holding my dad’s hand, and joyfully singing with our friends and church family.

Nothing has ever compared to my special, private, joyful memories of celebrating the Christmas Candlelight Service at Central Baptist Church.

Sarnia’s Marg Johnson is a retired Certified Child & Youth Worker who formerly worked with behaviour children as an educational assistant at the York Catholic District School Board.