“Merry Christmas! For 320 years, the people of Trinity Church have been saying Merry Christmas to each other,” was the reverend’s opening greeting. I looked around me at the hundreds of people squeezing into pews with many more standing for the Christmas Eve service at Trinity Church on Wall Street. People were excited and in anticipation for the evening. It was Christmas Eve and all I could do was gape at the vaulted ceilings and sparkling Christmas trees.
It was unlike any Christmas that I had ever experienced. We had packed a ton of adventures into one day from taking the Ferry to Staten Island, walking Central Park and holiday markets at Union Square, and taking the subway all around the island in-between. Here we were in this enchanted space for a Christmas Eve service in New York City. It seemed to hit me like a wave of déjà vu that it was Christmas Eve and we were really here. How different the days felt when we weren’t at home. For tonight, this was our local church, just a five to ten minute walk from our hotel and we were a part of this service with everyone there.
The church services for the evening were at 6:00 pm and 10:00 pm with the prelude beginning 30 minutes early. Knowing how much more attendance occurs on holidays, we thought we would arrive early at 9:10 pm for the 10:00 pm service only to find an opening by chance at the end of a pew. Twenty minutes later, we heard the most beautiful voices opening into song above us in the choir loft. People turned around and twisted their necks to get a view of the singers and instrumentalists sharing their music with us. After the first carol, the congregation was meant to join in but I wasn’t yet ready to sing along. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing because it was so unlike anything that I had ever heard live before. Derek leaned in to whisper, “they are definitely professional musicians,” and it was true.
After the awe of the first few prelude numbers, I picked up my bulletin to share in the singing Christmas carols which happen to be one of my favorite parts of Christmas altogether. I’ve been known to sing Christmas songs in mid-July just because I know all the words and I like to sing to myself while I’m driving or washing dishes. The tones were bright and joyful and the church so beautifully reflective of our voices that I could feel pure happiness inside me. There were a few aspects of the Episcopal service that we were unfamiliar with as the pastoral leadership entered with swinging incense to commence the service, but overall I felt grateful to be present in this historic church on Christmas Eve sharing that experience with others. “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.”