Every year about this time, I remember preparing for Christmas in Thayer. One of my favorite memories is that of Christmas Eve in the St. Paul United Methodist Church, when half the town, it seemed, came to services for song and prayer — and for “White Gifts.”
At an appointed time during the service, the children processed down the center aisle, bearing gifts wrapped in white tissue paper. These were gifts for the less fortunate in town, many of those less fortunate being the very children who were carrying the gifts toward the altar, where a manger inhabited by a baby doll awaited.
Neither my sister nor I ever carried forward a white gift. We took our gifts toward the baby Jesus in brown grocery sacks. We never had any white tissue paper around the house, and our mother was too busy grading papers and making spiced tea and Stőllen (a light fruit bread) for our friends to remember to get any. My father never even knew that we needed white tissue paper.
I remember walking forward every year, realizing that my white gift was lacking because it wasn’t, well, white. I always self-consciously trudged down the aisle, hoping against hope that no one would notice my very brown gift.
As the years passed, though, I was able to offer another gift – not wrapped at all. I provided music for those services. I played the piano, I sang songs, and there I sang in harmony for the first time – I was a soprano, and my friends Susan and Becky were altos — probably at age 12. Marilyn Cover had taught us to play ukulele and guitar and to sing in parts, and we made our first appearance that night singing “Sweetly Sleeping in a Manger.”
Those memories are probably what propel me, during the busiest and most hectic time of year, to prepare for our church’s Vespers service – celebrating the Christmas season in song. The first time I planned the entire service was the December after I had returned from Afghanistan the February before. Because I did not celebrate Christmas at home in 2012, or at Broadway Presbyterian, where I had offered my musical gifts for the previous 25 years, my first Christmas back home was special, and I wanted Vespers to be memorable, too. It was.
Last year, many of my friends came to sing special music at a difficult time in my life, making the Vespers service, for me at least, unforgettable. This year, “Christmas on Broadway,” our Vespers service, will be just as beautiful. The choir will sing, Katie Dake will play the piano and flute (not at the same time!), and Mark Piepenbrink will sound the pipe organ throughout the sanctuary.
Randy Melick will play the guitar, One Track Train will play Christmas music in their inimitable style, Mason Gaspard and Katie Dake’s duet is back by special request, and a special guest — Miss Abby Dake — will be playing the piano with her mother. It promises to be simply the best.
Most of all, it promises to be a celebration of hope, of peace, of joy, and of love. After having spent Christmas halfway across the world, those things – hope, peace, joy and love – mean more to me than they did before. This Christmas, I will be sending peace and love to the men and women with whom I worked in Herat and Kabul, men and women who do not share our religious beliefs, and whose own religion has come under fire lately. But their religion is theirs, and they harbor no ill will for our religion or for us.
I am grateful that some of them, those who risked their lives every day to go to work for the United States, are now in this country, working and raising their families. To Mirwais, Sameer, Touryalay, Morid, Qadeer and the others who may soon come to our shores, peace and love to you.
Though they cannot come to Vespers, I hope you can. Come to Broadway Presbyterian at 4 p.m. Sunday and celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace – the birth of perfect love.
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.