Going to Church on Christmas


The local parish church with trees reaching toward heaven

You know how Mormons joke about Catholics who only go to church on Christmas and Easter? Well, as a Mormon, I didn’t start going to church on Christmas (well, barring the occasional Christmas that landed on a Sunday, in which case we would reluctantly attend the thankfully attenuated services) until I married into a family from an alpine village of some 3000 souls where the Catholic church is the only game in town and pretty much everyone goes. And I have to say, I kind of like it. 

A lot of the appeal comes from the atmosphere, I have to admit, which is a feast for the senses. The parish church dates back to the twelfth century and features an amazing Late Gothic example of a ribbed vaulted ceiling that turns the supporting pillars into tree trunks and the ribs into branches. Christmastide begins on Christmas Eve with Midnight Mass (locally it starts at 10:00 p.m. due to popular demand; 11:00 was just too late for most people with services lasting until 12:30 a.m. or so depending on how ambitious the sermon was) and so the service is preceded by a walk through the cold, dark night. Upon entering the church, only the sanctuary is lit and a large Advent wreath hangs from the ceiling with all four candles burning. The smell of pine boughs and frankincense pervades the air. The wooden pews were designed with little legroom in mind but thankfully they are heated by a radiator pipe that is hot enough to warm up your seat but not much else—you can still see your breath. But with standing room only, it ends up feeling quite cozy. Lately the chaplain from Nigeria has led the Midnight Mass, which is punctuated by Christmas music sung by the choir and congregation and supported by a wind ensemble. Sunday services are much the same but are much brighter as they take place during daytime are led by the parish priest and feature the choir without a wind ensemble. And if you like, you can keep going to church through the rest of Christmastide, including on the 26th, the 31st and January 1st, though attendance wanes somewhat from Christmas Eve.

I have found attending church on (and round about) Christmas to be a rewarding experience with the change of pace from what I am used to no doubt playing a role in how I perceive the experience. Anyway, how about you? Do you attend church on Christmas?


  1. Our ward always holds a “nine lessons and carols” service on Christmas morning. Here in the UK most Christians go to church on Christmas day, and I think it would be very odd if we didn’t hold a service on such an important religious festival. I love it, it’s kind-of a dress-down affair, with people wearing their Christmas jumpers and even pyjamas.

  2. The Wards have always had a carol and scripture reading service on Christmas morning in the stake I’m in. Was a job when the kids were little to get them out but we all had a great start to the day and have always enjoyed it. I was most surprised and disappointed when I moved out of the stake for a short while to find that my new ward didn’t do it. I had always thought it was church wide. We will be there again tomorrow and looking forward to the special spirit that’s always there.

  3. I would love if our ward did something on Christmas (and Easter which too often falls in line with General Conference it seems). Our ward actually had its Christmas program last week as the expectation is that too many will be absent on Christmas to celebrate then. Pretty distressing I think.

  4. I’ll be attending midnight mass at Bury St Edmunds cathedral in the UK. I especially appreciate high church at Christmastime.

  5. Our family started attending church services at various Christian churches as soon as Melissa and I married, and it’s continued for 25 years. It’s a good tradition, I think.

  6. I’m feeling guilty, a convicted ‘fair weather’ church goer. When it was easy–in town, easy transportation, friends and familiarity–I was a regular Christmas (Midnight Mass) and Easter (Friday night and Easter morning) attendee at St. Thomas the Apostle in Hyde Park (Chicago). I miss it. Now that the equivalent choice for me would be an hour away and unfamiliar, I don’t even know the way.

  7. This year is four years in a row that we have attended a Christian candlelight service on Christmas Eve. One church we attended used battery operated candles, which was less exciting and may have been because of the balcony seating. Interestingly enough, that church was built as an LDS chapel and sold years ago. I love the significance of passing the flame from a single source throughout the entire congregation. An LDS Christmas program does not compare.

  8. I too like the passing of the flame (someone even comes around the house with the flame of peace from Bethlehem).

    As for LDS services, this year I helped the bishopric put together a program of scripture, hymns and readings that was a significant departure from anything I’ve ever seen done. The reaction was quite positive.

  9. This year I took my 15-year-old son to the candlelight Christmas Eve service at a local Presbyterian church. He really wanted to go to midnight mass, but I opted for the church I felt would have the best organ and choral music in town. I used to work as an organist in a Presbyterian church and Christmas Eve was my favorite memory of that time. I have had a fair amount of “holy envy” when it comes to the music in other churches vs. that of our own, and I was very much looking forward to the evening. The setting was magical–a 19th century Victorian church with stained glass and beautiful woodwork, adorned with greenery and lit by candles. As far as the music and general Spirit, however, I was gratified to realize that our own branch’s Christmas Eve service that morning was just as beautiful and meaningful. It secretly made me happy to see that this church (which appeared to have one of the better music programs of the churches in our smallish town) had a choir about the size of a typical ward choir–three men and six women. The choir was OK but not stellar and could barely be heard. The organist was good but not fabulous. There were some fairly serious bloopers throughout the service… things like the organist launching into an interlude but the congregation being confused and beginning to sing… the entire church darkened and an unfamiliar hymn being sung, but the church was so dark that no one could read the words to the hymn, therefore no one sang. It was still a very enjoyable service, but something about the imperfectness of it was just so endearing, so comforting, so very familiar.

  10. P.S. Our branch “chapel” (it’s really a multi-purpose room and not a dedicated chapel, though it looks like a chapel… it just has moveable seating) has been adorned with beautiful decorations since our Christmas party a few weeks ago. I suspect that technically the gorgeous wreaths–including one at the front that is 5-feet in diameter–and other Christmas floral arrangements should have been removed after the party, but who’s telling? It certainly helped the ambiance!

  11. Lots of folks in the ward visit a local church for Christmas Eve services. I didn’t know that there were wards out there that have their own services on Christmas Eve. I think that’s wonderful.

  12. Until my mom died 15 years ago, I would always attend Midnight Mass with her at the Catholic parish of my youth. It was a beautiful thing. Even in a “modern” parish, Christmas seems to bring out the ancient pageantry the RCs are so good at, and I would always see old friends that I hadn’t seen for a long time. And it meant a great deal to my mom.