A View from the Pew: Dilemmas of Christmas on Sunday

Every five to 11 years, depending on leap years, Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, and church-going folks, especially those with small children, face tough decisions.

Growing up a preacher’s kid, there was never any doubt that we would be in church on Christmas Sunday. In fact, there was never any doubt that we would be in church every Sunday. While it did limit our immediate enjoyment of gifts on Christmas morning, I learned to appreciate a double taste of excitement.

My two brothers and I had the joy of opening gifts and receiving Santa’s bounty at daybreak and then we squirmed all through church to get back home, put our pajamas back on and play with all the new stuff. I admit my worship may have been distracted on those occasions, but the second wave of joy over my new action figures and video games prolonged the novelty beyond what I experienced on a typical Christmas morning.

When I reached adulthood and began attending a church with Christmas Eve services, I felt that same double wave of anticipation and joy. It wasn’t so much about my gifts at that point, but when we had children, I developed an anticipation of seeing their excitement.

Worship, whether on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, became less of a distraction and more of an important interruption of the more commercialized aspects of the holiday. It helped me intentionally pause in the middle of everything and remember that I worship a God who gives good gifts, and I strive to follow the life example of a Messiah with a humble birth.

All of that sounds a little old fashioned today. Church attendance simply isn’t protected in our schedules as it once was, and if we have other activities supplant it on a regular basis, whether or not to attend on Christmas Sunday becomes an actual decision.

One compromise many churches will make is canceling Bible study or their multiple services and just have one service on Christmas morning. That approach gives families time to celebrate together without neglecting worship. It also eases some of the suffering of children who are forced to get dressed and leave their new toys behind to go to church.

Some will choose to make Christmas Eve their family’s experience of worship for the holiday and stay at home in their pajamas on Christmas Day. Some churches will only hold services on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day as a way to focus the celebration and avoid the inevitable dilution of attendance.

Health is always a consideration these days. Before COVID, we may have taken a few pills, tucked extra tissues in our pocket, and taken our sniffles to church. We are all more sensitive to spreading our germs these days, and many churches continue the COVID-era practice of live streaming their services. That will lead some families to stay home in their pajamas, spending a leisurely morning exchanging gifts and oooohing and aaaaahing over what Santa left for them. They can then tune in after lunch and worship together virtually.

There are probably other options for Christmas Sunday, I haven’t considered, but because this is written for a church-going audience, I’m assuming that showing up in person is at least on the table for you.

And I didn’t even mention the importance of corporate worship when you are single or unable to be with family for the holiday. Being with their fellow parishioners may be the only family some people have. It could be particularly important to those who lost spouses in the past year and are facing their first Christmas alone.

However you resolve the Christmas Sunday dilemma, I encourage you to make an intentional decision ahead of time. Be clear about what you are doing and why. Discuss it with your family. There is meaning to be mined from this infrequent calendar event, and that’s an opportunity not to be missed.

Merry Christmas!

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications and writes a blog at newsouthessays.com.

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