Growing up, my favorite night of the year was Christmas Eve. It had very little to do with the fact that Santa comes on Christmas Eve and everything to do with family. This was the one night of the year that all of my mother’s family gathered at my grandmother’s small home to celebrate the holiday.

When I think of those Christmas Eve celebrations, I can still feel the warmth of my grandmother’s home and smell the aromas of turkey and dressing. We usually arrived first and it was torture waiting on everyone else to get there. When they did, it was non-stop eating, talking, hugging, and laughing. The adults ate at the tables set up in the kitchen and living room while all of us children crammed into the small den to eat wherever we could find a spot. After dinner the tables were removed from the living room and we all gathered in there to watch my grandmother open her gifts. After that, the games and silliness began. We laughed until tears rolled down our faces and all of us kids dreaded the words, “It’s time to go”. And thus, the countdown until the next Christmas Eve began.

A few years ago, we finally decided it was time to let go of the family Christmas. Every year more seats remained empty as family members passed away and others moved too far away to attend. Even though we no longer get together, the memories of those Christmas Eves together still come up every time two or more of us are together. It’s funny that I would struggle to tell you favorite gifts I received on Christmas Day, but could talk for hours about the funny things that we did on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve for me now is still about family. Only now, it is about spending the evening with my Parkway family. It is coming to this sanctuary, thinking about that first Christmas, and seeing the excitement of the season in the eyes of our Parkway kids.

For many people, Christmas Eve is just another day at work. There are some places that cannot lock the doors and send workers home to spend the holidays with their families. Last Christmas, the Parkway kids made treat bags for the doctors, nurses, and people who would be spending Christmas keeping the emergency room at Gwinnett Medical at Duluth open. I had the joy of delivering those treat bags after our Christmas Eve service. I wish there were words that could help you “feel” that experience. The ladies at the front desk literally “lit up” when I told them why I was there. They reached over the counter and hugged my neck. I walked out with warmth in my heart, a smile on my face, and a determination to do it again.

I hope that all of you have a Christmas tradition like the one I grew up with. I hope that you have time with your family that creates memories that will last you a lifetime. I hope that as you grow older and as your traditions change, you will find new ways to experience the miracle of Christmas.