Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Lessons and carols for Christmas eve

I waited at Bonjour for J. And waited. And waited. Left to buy additional treats at Treasure Island. Returned to Bonjour. And waited.

At last he arrived and, after a bit, we set off on the bus for the last day of the Christkindlmarket, with a brief pit stop at Argo Tea. At the market we ate pretzels (he: traditional Bavarian, me: pumpkin) and wandered a bit, then he disappeared for a while. For the next hour, I'd find him, and he'd disappear. I should take a hint. I bought a scarf, and he bought (among other things, like a kingly nutcracker) mismatched socks for both of us and, as I found out later, finger puppets for me.

He'd been disappointed that we had so little time to spend at the market, but the wind was piercing at times, and both of us had soaked feet from walking around in the slush and ice. Even he admitted that, after the allotted time, he'd reached his limit (for cold and for spending, I think). We took a cab to the Flamingo, I changed clothes, and we thawed out our feet just in time to head to "Lessons and Carols for Christmas Eve" at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel—that is, once we had safely navigated the ice rink of a sidewalk around it.

Aside from college graduation and a friend's wedding ceremony, I don't think I've ever attended anything at Rockefeller—despite living across the street from it for three years. I suppose my excuse was too much academic work and too little time, although the time I had wasn't spent improving my mind. I didn't know what to expect.

It was lovely. We were given candles and a program with the lessons and carols, then found our way to row 72. There were more people than I would have anticipated, including children. In fact, children played key roles in the reading of the lessons, portraying the voices for Gabriel, shepherds, and others quoted directly.

The mix of verse with carols sung by choir or congregation and choir and prayer seemed perfect to me—more spiritually moving than lectures and exhortations. Even a few fussy toddlers and gentle laughter at some flubbed lines by the child performers didn't quite break the spell as day darkened to evening.

A climactic candle lighting and processional accompanied by caroling "brings the light of Christ to bless every corner of the Sanctuary."

As we made our way up to the altar during the offertory to benefit the Friend Family Health Center, J. whispered that sometimes it's good not to have his camera (because he wasn’t distracted by a desire to take photos). A few moments later I turned around to say something and found his phone thrust forward, taking photos. Apparently, I gave him "that look."

Up front we found a receiving line—the dean and associate dean of the chapel, the choirmaster, and others. It was like a wedding, after all, complete with strangers. Even though it had been a two-hour service, which normally would try my endurance, I was a little sad when it was over. For the first time, I felt a sense of community, and it had been the most moving service I'd been to since our former pastor created chalk drawings at Easter time, long ago and far away.

I overheard someone say that it had gotten cold—indeed! The temperature had dropped from about 35 degrees Fahrenheit to 17 degrees, and it was still falling. We returned to Bonjour for dinner and so J. could stock up on sandwiches and "treats." Our feet had another chance to thaw out.

Here, we watched In the Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and Van Johnson (and Buster Keaton). If you're not familiar with it, it's a Christmas movie despite the title—a variation on The Shop around the Corner, with Garland performing a handful of songs.

We opened gifts (including a Swarovski brooch that J. couldn't resist); drank blood orange tea; ate chocolate Santas, raspberry mousse, and chocolate espresso tart; and drank Peru fair trade coffee from Caribou Coffee (another gift from J.—there were many). Although I'm sure he loved the service at Rockefeller and appreciated the film, the highlight of the day for him had to have been a program I found on WGN—a retrospective on shows such as Ray Rayner, Garfield Goose, and Bozo. He's 40something going on 7.

And to all a good-night.


  1. I sang in the Rockefeller Chapel Choir for many years and miss singing the Lessons and Carols. It was nice to be reminded of it!

  2. The chapel is truly an impressive space. I relished reading the website, whose link you provided. I read that it has a Skinner organ, which must've been wonderful to experience. It says that the organ is one of two that are still in existence. It doesn't say where the other is, but I guessed that it's at Saint John the Divine Cathedral in NYC.

    We visited Saint John last year. But it was still under re-construction, and no service was taking place at the time.

    I'm glad to worship in a church that has a pipe organ. (And I sing with the choir, as well.) When I am moved, it's usually from the music. I occasionally have to stop listening to the entire sound we make when we sing lest I become breathless with awe.

    If you have even a slight ability to sing in key, consider joining a church choir. It's a wonderful experience, and many choirs are eager to receive new members.