by Sr. Sheila Campbell MMM Ireland 24.12.2022
When I was a small child, I was not allowed to go to Midnight Mass. That was only for the grown-ups. In those days, Midnight Mass meant midnight, not 8pm or 9pm the way it is now. But Christmas night was still special. There was a kind of waiting silence in the air, a kind of holy magic.
On Christmas Eve at midday, a red candle was lit, placed in an earthenware jar because we had no candlesticks. The candle was then carried into the front room and carefully placed on the windowsill and every year the same explanation was given. “This is the candle to show Mary and Joseph that they are welcome into our house so that Jesus can be born”. Sometimes I found myself staring out into the street to see if they were coming yet! This candle stayed lit until 12noon on Christmas Day. My brothers and sisters told me that of course my parents blew out the candle before they went to bed. It would have been too great a fire risk! But in my imagination, there it was, a solitary flame blazing out a welcome.
As an adult now I wonder where did this tradition arise? I have not met anyone else who had this as a family tradition, but when I think about it now, it is a good example of a “domestic church”. If religion means anything it has to be integrated into the fabric of daily living. “Sunday only” religion will not carry us very far. I think of the old Irish custom of making the sign of the cross on the top of a loaf of bread before it is baked in the oven. That is asking for a blessing.
Did we have all the usual “commercial” side of Christmas? Yes, of course, within my parents limited means. As a younger sibling, my belief in Santa was scoffed at early on, but Christmas presents were still enjoyed. I remember being a great reader and often asking for books.
I suppose my desire for Christmas this year is to return to the stillness, the magic of waiting, of expectation and then the burst of joy on Christmas morning. It doesn’t demand much of me, just an openness and patience. Welcome, Joseph and Mary, I am here waiting for you.