It’s Christmas Eve, and here in Houston it’s unseasonably hot: 71F at eleven in the morning, and heading for a high of 77F. Humid, too.
It made me think of a Christmas we spent with my sister in Australia, about fifteen years ago. Of course, it’s summer there this time of the year, so you expect it to be hot. The whole of her extended family — more than twenty men, women and children — was gathered at the farm, and after lunch we sat around talking. Two of my nieces have married Catholics, and they and their families were planning to go to Christmas Eve Mass in the evening. My sister thought she’d go too, so my wife and I decided to go along with them even though we are not Catholics.
The Catholic Church at Elong Elong was tiny, so it was suggested that everyone bring a lawn chair or a blanket to sit on, because the service would be held outside. We arrived there after the heat of the day had started to wane, but well before dark. The men carried the altar, the pews, and the harmonium out of the tiny building and set them up on the grass under the gum trees. The children played while the women unfolded blankets and folding chairs. About the time everything was set up, the priest arrived. He had to celebrate Mass at half a dozen tiny churches that day, with a long drive in between, much of it over gravel roads.
It seemed strange to have a Christmas Eve service in bright sunlight, with the background sounds of the bush, rustling leaves along with the calls of galahs, cockatoos and kookaburras, interrupted occasionally by the sound of a car or truck passing on the highway. One of my sister’s grandsons served as altar boy, and my niece was organist.
After the benediction everyone worked together to return the furniture to its usual place, then piled back into cars and trucks and drove back home, mostly to farms.
Tonight, my wife and I will be attending a Christmas Eve service at her sister’s church. It’s Presbyterian, and we’re not Presbyterians. But we all remember the birth of our savior, along with billions of other Christians around the world.