A year ago I knew that I was experiencing my favorite Advent/Christmas season in many years. Unlike El Jefe, I am not a particularly nostalgic person. I tend to focus on the here and now and the future more than remembering the past. But this year I find myself re-living last year's highlights and smiling about them.
It began with a long-anticipated trip to Sewanee, where Babs was a senior, to attend their famous Lessons and Carols service in All-Saints Chapel. People come from all across the Southeast to be at this event. Buses from churches in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia make the pilgrimage every year. The great pipe organ and the Chapel were refurbished during the previous two years so we waited to attend until everything was completed. And we were NOT disappointed.
The university choir was magnificent, All Saints was beautifully decorated with evergreens and poinsettas, the pipe organ was glorious and the readings heart-felt. A large spotlight was positioned outside the building just behind the giant rose window above the altar so that it glowed like the Star of Bethleham when the lights were dimmed for the candlelit recessional. I left filled with a joy and anticipation that stayed with me for weeks.
Advent/Christmas last year was the least stressful season I can remember in many, many years. I discovered online shopping and avoided the disastrous and frustrating construction detours around the Houston Galleria area.
Then an unexpected surprise-- on Christmas Eve snow began to fall on Sugar Land (the Houston suburb where we live). As we left our house to join some neighbors for dinner at a local restaurant, big, fat white snowflakes drifted down. And actually stuck! It wasn't very cold, really, just barely under freezing. The last time I saw snow here was more than 10 years ago and then it melted as soon as it hit the ground. As we looked out the windows of the restaurant the snow flurries seemed magnified by the light reflected from the overhead street lights.
The snow lay on the ground,
The stars shone bright.
When Christ our Lord was born
On Christmas night.
In the history of recorded weather in Texas, there had never been a white Christmas in our area. I've spent every Christmas of my life in either San Antonio or the Houston area, so it was a first for me, too. Flurries were still falling as we left the midnight candlelight service at church and drove home. It was perfect! The roads remained warm enough to prevent any icing problems. the snowfall was like a light dusting of powdered sugar on all the buildings and cars.
How my late mother, a native of Chicago, would have loved to see snow on Christmas Eve. To her it wasn't Christmas without a fire in the fireplace. The problem was that many years we had to crank up the air conditioning to offset the heat it created when the temperatures in San Antonio were in the eighties.
The next morning it was warming just enough to start melting the snow. Kids all over the neighborhoods were scraping snow off cars and lawns to make snowballs and slushy-looking snowmen. We went over my sister-in-law's home for Christmas Day brunch and present exchanges.
By Boxing Day, there was no trace of snow left. We drove over to San Antonio for dinner with my brothers and sister. This was a mini-reunion of that side of the family and a blessing because it represented a rapproachment after a significant family rift. El Jefe, Portia, Babs and I stayed at the Menger Hotel that night and visited the Alamo across the street before driving home the next day.
Babs and I looked for a traditional Lessons and Carols service in the Houston area at the beginning of Advent. You won't find one like the one in Sewanee (and you sure won't find one like that in one of our Presbyterian churches) but we hoped to find something close. We didn't. And I was disappointed because it seemed to me that beginning Advent with that experience truly heralded the season.
But now I realize that it wasn't just that service. It was a combination of many blessings that came together last year and was made memorable by the sparkling snow flakes that fell from Heaven on Christmas Eve.
Many Christmas cards from friends that we have received contain pictures of that once-in-a-lifetime snow on the palm trees, swimming pools and beaches of south Texas. I'm not the only one reliving that special Christmas Eve.
What was your favorite Advent?