Why Christmas Eve Is More Magical Than Christmas Day
There is magic happening, right underneath our noses. To find it, we need only get still long enough to catch the scent, and follow it where it leads us…
Ten years ago, my family celebrated Christmas Eve in a massive church, with thousands of other people. It was electric and exciting and when a thousand hands held up candles at the end of the service, it was breathtaking.
Five years ago, we celebrated Christmas Eve in a smaller church, but there were still hundreds in attendance and we wedged ourselves into pews with friends and family and the celebration was joyous. When the hundreds of hands held up candles at the end of the service, it didn’t take your breath away. But the flickering flames did calm it.
This year, we’ve moved to a small town and we’ve been attending a very small church. Every week, our family can count on our ten hands the number of people in attendance. I expect the Christmas Eve service will be no different. And I’m grateful for that. Because this year has been teaching me something I’ve been trying to learn for a lifetime: getting quiet and still and small brings us face-to-face with the ordinary.
And the ordinary is where the magic is.
We often get this backward. We think we must be extravagant to be exciting. We think bigger is better and more of a good thing is a great thing. Our vacations become accelerations and, on our days off, it becomes almost impossible to turn off. We try to make more magic by making more money and more memories and more commotion. But the real magic is never loud and bombastic.
The deeper magic is always quiet and subtle.
I think that’s why, when you ask people, most of us enjoy Christmas Eve more than Christmas Day. On Christmas day, we burst into a flourish of activity. Wrapping paper torn asunder, toys ripped open, new games inserted into old devices, new devices powered up for the first time, new clothes thrown on. Families hit the road to find the rest of the family and feasts are prepared and devoured and digested. Celebration expands. It’s extraordinary.
Which is where the magic gets lost.
In contrast, on Christmas Eve, we celebrate an ordinary story:
In an ordinary small town, an ordinary couple can’t find a place to stay. Then, this ordinary young girl gives birth to an ordinary baby. She wraps him in ordinary cloth. Ordinary animals look on. That’s it. That’s the whole story we’re celebrating. On the face of it, it’s just another night.
But then something happens on a quiet hillside outside of town.
A group of ordinary shepherds — which is to say, a group of the most ordinary men in the culture, the fringe, the forgotten — are spending the night with their flock. When suddenly, in the midst of the quiet and the stillness, magic bursts forth. The skies open and the divine crashes into the ordinary and announces that everything that seems ordinary is not. The hinge of history has happened, an ordinary baby has been born, but he’s also not ordinary.
He’s magical, too.
And so these ordinary men go sprinting into town, right toward the magic, and then they go sprinting around, announcing the magic that has been birthed in the midst of the ordinary. This story is the foundation of the faith celebrated on Christmas Eve. But it is also the foundation of our humanity:
To know that, in the midst of our ordinary human lives, magic is being birthed.
On Christmas morning there is not enough time or space or stillness to cup the ordinary in our hands and hold the ordinary in our minds. But Christmas Eve. It’s a night set aside for quiet and waiting. It’s a night set aside to attend to the ordinary.
Until we catch a glimpse of the magic.
Until the sound of Christmas carols drifting on the icy air from three blocks away lands on you like a reminder we’re all in this together, all connected, all one. Until the giggling of the children in the pew becomes a cup, filled to the brim with the Joy from which the universe sprung. Until the squirming children in the seat next to you become a pool, filled to the top with the Energy that gave birth to all things and holds all things together. Until the flickering candles become an icon for the Light at the center of existence and at the center of ourselves.
Until the magic becomes more real than the mundane.
Until, finally, you find your faith.
Faith that the ordinary in which the magic happens is all you’ll ever really need.