I have really come to detest the tradition of having the Sunday School Christmas Program, (or a day school program, for that matter), on Christmas Eve itself.
At first, when Turkey and Bunny were just starting Sunday School, I thought it was kind of cool. It’s a throwback tradition that many congregations don’t observe anymore, and I like tradition. But with every year that goes by, I like this tradition a little less, to the point where I really think one year we’re just not going to participate.
Why do I dread this event every year? The reasons are many!
First of all, we don’t get to sit with our children in church on Christmas Eve. This really bothers me! Now, I know that if we were at a non Sunday School program Christmas service, they might have other responsibilities, such as singing in the choir, or acolyting, or whatever. But those things wouldn’t even come up for a few years yet, and there’s something really special about worshipping with small children on Christmas, and I feel like I’ve really missed out on that opportunity.
Second is the stress involved. This stress comes from many different places. The children are stressed about saying their parts right, especially in front of such a crowded congregation. I’m stressed about them doing their parts, because it’s not just a program, it’s Christmas Eve church! They’re involved in leading the worship of the congregation on that special night. So as proud as I am of them, there’s also always a little terror in my heart, imagining the things that could go wrong.
Speaking of which, I’m not necessarily a fan of children being so involved in an actual worship service. Call me crazy, but on Christmas, I really want to hear the Gospel message from the pastor, hear the familiar readings from him, and sing beloved Christmas hymns accompanied by the organ. As cute as it is to listen to children sing “Away in a Manger” and all of the other songs they sing at Christmas, it makes me feel like a spectator, not a participant, like I’m at a show. So, I’m a fan of having the program set apart from the normal worship time. A Sunday afternoon or evening, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, for example. Or, if you must tie it to a worship service, how about a Wednesday mid-week service instead?
I also have the unique perspective of having a special needs child, and him being involved in such an important worship service brings its own form of stress (though it’s by no fault of his). It’s hard enough to put a child like that up in front of the congregation on any day, not knowing what he might do…or not do, as the case may be. You worry that people are critical of him, or laughing at him, or just wondering what the heck his problem is, (and let’s face it, this is a bigger concern on a day like Christmas, when many of the people in attendance are visitors or are not regular church goers, and aren’t familiar with his struggles). Add in the stress of wondering if he might do something inappropriate during the Christmas service, and it’s enough to make any parent want to hide under the pew! And if there is some kind of meltdown, either because the child is in the program, or because he’s not, you have a whole new host of problems. A meltdown means the child has to leave the service, and the child leaving means one of the parents must, as well. And then you have two people who are now not only missing the Christmas program, but Christmas worship as well. Big problem.
And special needs children aren’t the only ones who are unpredictable. I’m not sure that any small children really understand the magnitude of being in front of the congregation, leading them in worship, and they often do inappropriate things. They talk to each other, they fall over, they “shoot” at each other with their shepherd’s staff. In short, they behave like children. But the Christmas Eve service is probably not the best time to showcase that children will be children–there should be more reverence on that holy night; more reverence for a church service in general. This is not just a show that people are going to see, it’s worship, but a lot of people, adults and children alike, seem to miss that fact.
Finally, I don’t like how showy the Christmas program always is by nature, and I really wish that show could be divorced from the Christmas worship service. Let’s face it, the real draw of the program for many people is seeing how cute little John or Susie is. They ooh and aah over the cute songs with the hand motions, they chuckle at the mistakes made in speaking parts, they admire the adorable children in costumes. And the worst part is, no matter how often the pastor reminds people that this is, in fact, a worship service, and flash photography is not allowed, someone, or many someones, will start taking pictures with the flash, further distracting the congregation from the Gospel message.
I don’t mind the program itself; I really do look forward to my children having a chance to participate in it every year. But I really wish that churches would move away from the tradition of having it on Christmas Eve, and more it to a more appropriate date.