Christmas for me growing up was always a joyful experience. Even when you were forced to go to mass, that too was a fun experience. There would be a choir singing which our mother sang in. So us girls (my sisters and I) would sit in a row together. There was the big crib on the alter or sometimes it was on the side aisle. There was sometimes a Christmas tree on the main stage where children like myself might have made a decoration for the tree. We would take our seat, which was the same seat every week, I think locals knew our bench so nobody ever sat in it. Plus the locals all had their own bench too. I always remember turning around to have a look up at the choir in the gallery at the back of the church and searching to find mam. She would give me a smile then a disapproving look which meant "eyes front, no turning around ". Us four girls left alone was risky business as something funny would always happen or my eldest sister would crack a joke and we would always end up in stitches laughing. Trying to contain the laughter meant we just sat there shaking making no noise but the whole bench would rock from our shaking. We could feel the disapproving glares from people behind us but it was Christmas eve and the excitement was high. After all santa was coming and we would be getting presents. I am pretty sure my mother was having a giggle in the gallery at her four daughters shaking the bench. We had different priests over the years growing up. Mass was always a boring event but Christmas eve Mass felt special. We relived the story of baby Jesus being born, lots of singing and it felt like hope and a new beginning.
I went to Mass this Christmas eve and what a unpleasant experience it was. I felt sorry for my kids that they didn't get to feel that excitement and kinda special joy with Christmas eve Mass. We firstly had to book Mass due to covid and limited spaces. When we arrived we were ushered into the side aisle through a different entrance. We went up to the top where my sister sat with her family but we couldn't sit with them as the bench behind them was taped off. So we had to go to the back of the aisle. We sat down together myself and my four kids. We couldn't see anything in the main part of the church due to the large pillars to our right. So we could only hear the priest. I couldn't tell you if there was a crib or a Christmas tree on the alter. I noticed some nicely candles lite on the windows of the main church. Also some people in the main church sitting on their own on one long bench with nobody sitting near them. It looked sad and lonely. There was no choir just one soloist, who sang like an opera singer so there was no chance joining in, if there was a song you knew. She had a beautiful voice, and I would definitely appreciate her singing at an another event but Christmas eve should be about participation and inclusiveness. We have been blessed in our parish with a very pompous priest who treats Mass like a time for him to shine and give a big long sermon that nobody understands or most of us just start day dreaming about half way through. Its so disappointing as I am sure he has a very useful point in his sermon but it gets lost in all his waffle. He has been told this but he doesn't seem to care. He also doesn't seem to mind that half the parish now go to other parishes for Mass. Well this Christmas Eve Mass felt like a perfect Mass for him with just him and his canter as he called the soloist. The rest of us just sat there wishing it was over or sat wondering why did we even come. My daughter asked me at one stage "why do we come to Mass when it is so boring ", I said "so we can pray and thank God for all the good things", she said "couldn't we do that at home, at least it wouldn't be boring ". She has a point, we could at least sing a few carols at home aswell. The covid Mass was an unpleasant experience. It represented the year that lots of people have experienced with self isolation, loneliness and very little joy. It lacked any hope or community spirit.
While actually outside of the church our community has pulled together to create a wonderful winter wonderland in our town park. Full of light, joy and hope. They also got together to provide meals for the elderly or anyone that needed it during lockdown. I think this reflects our community spirit during covid 2020 and I am certain it will continue for 2021.