Christmas On Sunday

Mon chi-chis,

It has come to PeaceBang’s attention that Christmas falls on a Sunday this year. I’m sure that you and your worship committees already know this, and may have already discussed your plans for celebrating Jesus’ birthday. We certainly have at PeaceBang’s church. On that subject, however, an alert reader from California inquires as to whether PeaceBang would like to offer a smackdown to those colleagues who are planning on NOT HAVING CHURCH ON SUNDAY MORNING, December 25, 2011.

I remember seven years ago when this same phenomenon occurred and it was of PeaceBang and her Director of Religious Education’s opinion that of COURSE WE WOULD HAVE CHURCH. I found an organist for the morning (PeaceBang is not the Grinch, after all … she isn’t going to require that any of the staff come to work on Christmas morning) and my colleague and I opened the church and straightened out the poinsettias and welcomed three or four hearty and faithful souls who came to worship that morning. It was sweet. We did not regret it. It did not take our whole day to worship the Lord on Christmas morning, and it felt right and good.

This year I have mentioned to my Worship Committee that I would be open to not having church on Christmas morning, so if anyone deserves a smackdown for shirking in their religious obligations I would have to include myself among that number. It’s a hard decision. I do not have children, which really makes my life at Christmastide much simpler. I do run around like a maniac cooking, shopping for gifts, baking, decorating, attending holiday events and getting ready for special worship services so the season is certainly full enough. If I was a mom AND a minister I feel almost certain that I would welcome any worship committee member’s suggestion of skipping Christmas morning services (assuming that Christmas Eve services are a tradition of the church). I would do it for my children. But since my own Christmas Day is blissfully quiet and peaceful and I can spend it in prayer and singing carols and eating Chinese food or fondue with friends, it would not be fair for me to criticize those who are considering closing the church on Sunday morning.

I would only offer this: as a single person who often looks for church services on holidays and has a hard time finding any to attend, please consider that not everyone experiences Christmas as a big family holiday. For some of us it is primarily a religious holiday that is about Christ, not Santa.

And there is this: when the Church closes on the Christmas that falls on Sunday morning, what statement is it making? I think we must answer that honestly and say that the Church is saying that we have yielded the meaning and intent of the holiday to the secular culture’s interpretation of it: as a festival of fun, socializing, family reunion, pleasure, gift-giving, and twinkling lights. While those are all wonderful, happy things, the Church has another witness to make. And it really can’t make that witness by closing its doors on Christmas morning.


That’s better.

30 Replies to “Christmas On Sunday”

  1. As a DCE and Mom, I took my 2 year old (last time this came around)to church on Christmas morning. I believe that its a tough sell to try to take a pass on christmas morning worship on a Sunday–we lose all credibility in ever trying to keep the Christ in Christmas if we were to cancel the service of the Lord’s Day on the Lord’s birthday.

    Your point about singles is well taken and important–I think about Carol Howard Merritt’s “tribal Church” and what that generation of church-goers needs. But. . . you can think out of the box–encourage kids to come in their jammies and bring a new toy, allow noise, movement, and tell the story creatively–it is a great day for intimate worship!!

    Also, your UK readers will no doubt point out that Christmas morning services are the usual in England as opposed to Christmas eve (at least in my URC experiences in living in England and being married to a Brit.)

  2. I think the key is that Christmas is always about Jesus and not Santa, whether we are married or not, and whether we have children or not. Our congregation began having a Christmas morning service regardless of what day of the week Christmas fell on several years ago and it has become a beautiful tradition. Of course we only end out with maybe 2 dozen worshipping, but we are 2 dozen men, women, children, young, old, married, single. We hold the service mid-morning – not too early and early enough that getting to grandma’s house for dinner is not a problem. As Becky says above, we encourage jammies, stuffed animals are always welcome, and the service is more informal than a normal liturgy – though we do celebrate the Eucharist.

    I think rather than considering cancelling Christmas because it falls on Sunday we need to lift up Christmas on Mon through Sat. Because worshipping on Jesus’ birthday isn’t really about us and convenience and all that jazz. 🙂

  3. My church celebrates in worship on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (small solo pastor church, thank goodness that isn’t MY job!) no matter when they land in the week and we have for as long as I can remember. On Christmas Day we serve a Scandinavian coffee (which has become much more diverse in the past few years 🙂 It is lovely for both single people, folks far away from family and a large turn out of our elderly in the congregation who might not have anything else to do that day.

    For years now I have passed on attending because I have children, but look forward to the years when my daughters start new traditions with their own families and I can attend church on Christmas morning, drink coffee and and eat kranskake and share stories of Christmas with my church family.

  4. I am a minister and mother of four (the youngest is now 8), Advent and Christmas for the last fifteen years have been exhausting. However, when Sunday Christmas came up seven years ago, I told my elders I was prepared to lead a service on Christmas morning (even after three the night before) since it was Sunday and that’s what we do. They disagreed, citing the fact that few would come. I read between the lines enough to know that they didn’t want to feel obligated to come, either. After a vigourous discussion, they decided not to host a service that day (as they can do in our denomination’s polity). I simply called a neighbouring pastor to get the details and invited my congregants to attend that church instead. This year I plan to try again. I still think Sunday is a church day, no matter how tired I am or how many family dinners I am trying to squeeze in.

  5. I am a mom and a pastor and we fully intend to worship on Christmas day, Sunday or no. I actually find that it’s *most* exhausting when Christmas day falls on Saturday (as it just did this past year). So this past year, I had 3 worship services to lead on Christmas eve, one on Christmas day, and two on the Sunday after Christmas. The way I handle the family part (sons aged 3 and 5) is ever since they were born–and even before that, when it was just my husband and me–we “moved” Christmas to Dec 24. My husband takes Dec 24 off each year. The morning of Dec 24 is our “Christmas morning” since services don’t begin until 3 pm. That means our “Christmas Eve” is Dec 23rd. Yes, sounds crazy–and I even tell the kids that Santa comes early to our house because he knows mommy needs to help the church–but it works! I found that I didn’t sit there so sad on Christmas Eve/Day, watching others sit with their families while mine was at home. I had already made some memories with my family, so that bereft feeling was smoothed over. I also found that celebrating “after” Christmas I was too exhausted, physically and emotionally, to enjoy it. For those who struggle with feeling left out of family time because of worship commitments at Christmas, think about this “early Christmas” option.

  6. I recall being really surprised when some of my uni friends (who weren’t Catholics) told me that their churches didn’t have a service on Christmas day morning. Their rationale was that Christmas day was to spend “with your family”. I was agog: “But… the church IS your family!!!”

    The lack of a service on Christmas day became (to me) a symbol of Those Sorts of churches where only the standard hetero family-with-kids was valued and everyone else was just left in the cold.

  7. In the Uk almost every church has worship on Christmas Day anyway so it isn’t so much of an issue. But I wouldn’t be without it. I love the quiet of Midnight Communion and then the busyness of getting up on Christmas Day, opening stockings and then dashing to Church to share in a 45 minute service full of fun, excitement and celebration of Jesus’ birth. We always have a “What was in your stocking” moment which the whole church family share in.
    For the last 12 years my children have gone to a different church from me (both parents are ministers) so I am not with them for the worship on Christmas Day – but that is ok. we have plenty of time to be together
    I guess what is important is finding your own traditions and celebrations as a family and finding the right balance of congregation and personal time

  8. Back when I was a DCE, when Christmas was on a Sunday in the late 80’s or early 90’s (too lazy to look it up) we allowed our daughter to open one special gift (A doctor Barbie) and bring it to church with her. More people were there than I thought there would be; more older single people, true, but also other families. Our families lived far away, and I will always treasure sharing the pew with Dr. Barbie and the warmth of that day.

    This year we’ll have our 12/25 and 1/1 services in the church parlor, with carols around the piano, a real worship service but with a homey feel, and favorite toys are of course invited!
    Since my husband and I have no older generation anywhere any more–still in our 50’s, we are the oldest generation–we’ll also enjoy having extended church family to celebrate with. Then we’ll go home and do gifts with adult kids and cook the pierogi and kielbasa and have a great day!

  9. It has been my tradition for the past 10 years to attend Christmas Day service. As a student I challenged my supervisor to open the church for Christmas Day. He agreed, but said he needed to leave immediately afterwards…which was fine, I know he’s got family he wants to be with. But I asked if I could host hosptality time, knowing that many of the folks who would come would be alone otherwise. He agreed and we had an amazing turn out of folks, as much for the fellowship as the worship.

    I’ve been pastor of a small parish for 4 years. Each year we have 3 services Christmas Eve, 1 on Christmas Day. And every year, without exception, we have visitors who are looking for a place to worship on Christmas Day…more often than not they bring their children and the homily becomes dialogue in nature. We, too, have Eucharist and it becomes a teaching moment as we all gather around the table to share in the greatest gift we will ever receive.

    Very few parishioners attend Christmas Day, but knowing we will have strangers with us makes it exciting for me and my husband. We may only see them once, but the gift they give us with their presence makes it all worthwhile.

  10. I’ve always done services on Christmas Morning when it was a Sunday — but this year as I’m in a larger than usual sanctuary and anticipate a smaller than usual attendance, I’m planning on having a Christmas breakfast (well, it will be closer to brunch, really) with worship around the table. Very informal. And I stole the idea from a colleague.

  11. Our family has been going to Christmas Day services every year for 25 years, whatever day of the week it falls on. When I took my first call at the church I currently serve, we started the same tradition here. We have about 40 folks who come. I like the idea about adding in a Christmas breakfast or brunch. Might try it this year.

  12. If my memory serves me well the last time Christmas was on a Sunday several of the megachurches here in the Texas end of the Bible Belt made news because they were canceling Sunday activities. They gave an interesting rationale: They were doing a bunch of special services on C Eve (in some cases 6 or 7 services starting shortly after noon some with big drama effects and orchestra). All those extra services required the full commitment of all of their paid staff and volunteers. There was no way they could ramp up again for Sunday morning.

    Again if memory serves me all of the non megachurches I knew about around here had some type of services that day.

  13. Our daughter thinks that because Daddy (the pastor) is up early both Santa and the Easter bunny have to come back after we leave. They leave her a note to that effect.
    I agree that some type of service should be offered. The mega churches in this area cancel church so staff can be with families because of the number of staff and volunteers it takes. That never sits well with me, I think a simple service would be welcomed.

  14. I noticed that as my mother aged she found the Christmas Eve services too hectic, not at a good time etc. – she had always attended Christmas Day (Anglican) and this became enough for her – what would she have done if there had not been a service? –

  15. I was surprised that last time this came up that our church – the godless heathen gay-friendly UCC church (or at least that is how many of the other, considerably more theologically conservative churches in town see us) was one of the few who chose to have Sunday services on Christmas. We’ll do it again this year, and we’ll sing a capella if we can’t find a musician.

    I am also on tap to lead the nursing home services that day. Instead of grumbling about having to do it with a 7-month-old (her first Christmas! the horror of having not only church that day, but EXTRA church!), I think I’ll bring her as we sing some songs, offer some prayers, and give thanks for the new life of Jesus. It will be a joyous gift for all of us.

  16. We’ve always had Christmas Eve and Christmas morning services, regardless of the day of the week.

    Christmas Eve is our biggest service of the year – a family event at 7ish then Midnight Mass starting at 11:30. I’ve never gone to Christmas day as my husband and I have been bouncing around three sets of family all day on Christmas for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But I’m glad that it happens.

    I do think that Christmas for Christians is a religious holiday, not purely a family focused time.

  17. I’ve always offered a Christmas service, but noticing how few people came to Christmas Day at my first parish, started a non-traditional service. I advertise well, and it’s typically Lessons-and-Carols with a veggie platter and hot cocoa. I’ve always pulled at least 12 people in- lots of people with out family, but also some families where the kids are bouncing off the walls and they have to get out of the new-toy-filled house or burst.

    This year, we’ll be doing one service (instead of three) but still a full Eucharist- it’ll be celebrated by my boss and his father, also a priest- it’s their developing Father-Son tradition to do church together. Meanwhile, I’ll be putting out Christmas day brunch- veggie platter and cocoa. Maybe I’ll throw in some eggs this year.

  18. BTW- I get so angry when family tells me “Christmas is for the KIDS!” It is really unwelcoming, and basically, says “well, you don’t have kids, so we don’t care to figure out how to welcome you or include you in our celebrations”. It made it easy to choose a job near friends instead of near family.

  19. I find it so heartening to hear the many comments enthusiastically in support of the Christmas morning service. I too am a mom and a pastor and I would much rather my daughter know about the gift of Jesus’ birth than than the gifts brought by Santa (whom she already knows to be pretend). I am blessed to be a part of a pastoral team among whom the responsibility for leading the Christmas services can be alternated in varying years, but whether or not I lead, if I am not out of town visiting family, I attend and participate. This year we will celebrate both on Christmas Eve and on Christmas morning and although our big crowd is always Christmas Eve, I cherish Christmas morning as an intimate and festive time with my church family! [SANTA IS NOT PRETEND! Okay, I’m ok now. – PB]

  20. I’m another Brit and so for me Christmas Day service goes without saying. We’re in France where it is not quite traditional, so on more than one occasion it has been myself and DH leading a service for 10 or 15 folk – very often, foreign, single, asylum seekers, etc. We keep it short and informal, and also provide mulled-wine, something to eat and generally somewhere to go and something to do for folk who might otherwise be alone. (Also cook extra turkey to take folk home with us.) We don’t do it every year (as some years we travel to be with family) but its always appreciated. We have 3 kids and its never been a problem for them – when they were small they brought a present or two with them.

    But the fact that we’re not the pastor might make this a bit easier for us – so maybe if the pastor really can’t face it, this is time to encourage some of the lay leadership to handle it.

  21. Like many UU churches, we don’t usually have a Christmas Day service; our celebration is on Christmas Eve (and my vacation starts immediately afterwards). But this year, with Christmas falling on a Sunday, we are having our usual service. Staff will have the day off, and lucky me, I have a colleague who doesn’t have kids and is happy to lead the service; we anticipate it will be mostly elders, and it will be held in our Fireside Room and be lovely. I’ll do New Year’s Day duty, because even before I had a kid I went to bed at 10:30 on New Year’s Eve. I’m looking forward to celebrating the New Year at church.

  22. Thank you, to everyone, for this 6+ month in advance shift in perspective. Since I realized Christmas was on Sunday this year, I’ve been dreading it. I grew up in a very small church that was lucky to have 25 on a good regular Sunday, so we never had service on Christmas when if fell on a Sunday (although I think the last time it happened a Deacon showed up to lead a small prayer service for anyone who cared to join him). I knew that the church I serve now as Associate Pastor would not do the same–the last time the dates matched up, there was a blizzard and they STILL had the service! If things go as planned, this will be my first Christmas as a mom, of a school-age child placed for adoption from foster care. I kept thinking of how un-welcome church would be to her/him on Christmas morning (and how exhausted I’d be after 3 services + gift-finishing the night before).

    But now I’m wishing we always had a Christmas service, no matter the day. I’m thinking something around a meal in our fellowship hall, as we did for Maundy Thursday, would be lovely. I’m grateful that I will be able to re-focus Christmas (at least temporarily) away from the gifts under the tree and towards the Gift from God. And if my church doesn’t do a Christmas service next year, on Monday (I admit the rest of the staff may not be as enthused as I about the prospect), I’ll find somewhere else to worship with my family.

    Just thinking of this has brought tears to my eyes (yeah, I’m a sap, and so much more so around Christmas). So thank you, again. [You’re welcome, sweetie. Here’s a tissue. – PB]

  23. I would never cancel a Sunday service but I see no need for a smaller church to have both a Christmas Eve and Christmas Day service. I’ve seen too many small churches, pretending it’s the good old days when they needed several service wear out their pastor and choir and organist with several services over Christmas Eve and Christmas day for very few people. No it’s not about numbers but if you don’t need three services for Easter, you don’t need three services for Christmas.

  24. Wow, I learned something today. Never realized that so many Protestant churches don’t actually have Christmas services. As a Catholic it never occurred to me this was even possible. Seems odd! Thanks for shaking up my preconceived notions, never a bad thing.

  25. We’re having a simple service with a carol sing and a christmas potluck! Sounds pretty fun to me. 🙂

  26. I have nowhere to go on Christmas. I left home at 16 and for the past 8 years I haven’t had anybody to be with. I always try to seek out a Christmas morning service; it is the only community I get that day. I would be completely bummed if church canceled services in order to be with family – it’s like one more person or group reminding me that I don’t have a family.

  27. Is this a US thing? I can’t think of any Australian church I’ve attended that has not had a service on Christmas Day if it’s on a Sunday. They’d have a service on the Sunday regardless, even at that time of year.

  28. Seven years ago when Christmas came on Sunday, we decided to hold church anyway. It’s Sunday, we have church. That’s it. (We serve a brand new UU congregation, so this was another “first” for us.) Imagine our astonishment when fifty-eight people showed up! (Our normal Sunday attendance is in the 85-95 range.) I was stunningly glad we had made the decision to be there for these people, who ranged from families with kids to singles, empty-nesters, first-time guests, the whole gamut. Just like on every other Sunday.

  29. My small fellowship isn’t doing a Christmas Day service, and it’s thoroughly depressing. Unfortunately our minister can’t do it, I can’t help (I’m the part time DRE and will be on the other side of the country that day), and our lay leadership is just too busy. It seems to me this is one of the more important days for a church to be open!

    Though I must also admit that I am not a Christian, and for me Christmas (or whatever we call it) is about the season, about family (however we create that) and generosity and joy and decking the halls and all of the “heathen” things I was raised to believe in. In our fellowship we have a tree right up front and talk proudly about Dicken’s contribution to our modern conception of the holiday- how he helped people to find ways to celebrated it with their family and friends at home since so few people lived in their own villages anymore, put generosity and goodwill back at the center of things for so many, and so on.

    I’m a bit offended by the differentiation between the tree as “heathenish” and the little white New England Church as “better”, perhaps because I grew up Unitarian Universalist with the term “heathen” being thrown at my head as a derogatory term and a threat. Otherwise all good points!

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