Christmas Memory

This is something I wrote for a holiday variety show where I was the “Visiting Protestant Pastor.” I appeared along with a Jewish Rabbi and a Catholic Priest. I’m not kidding—no joke!

I am a Protestant pastor, but I grew up in the Greek Orthodox Church. It was a great spiritual foundation; however, you need to know that Greek Orthodoxy was kind of like Catholicism before they modernized under the Second Vatican Council. Truthfully, I had never heard a church service spoken in English.

Then my mom died when I was 12. That first Christmas without her was weird. We sat around the Christmas dinner table as if there was an empty seat or like we were a puzzle with a piece missing. Three-and-a half years later, my dad married a lovely “American woman.” I say that because, as far as the Greeks were concerned, it was a “mixed marriage.” Luanna and her three kids were wonderful—a gift to us from God.

And she wasn’t just American. She was blue-eyed, blonde, and Protestant. Thus, we started going to a Presbyterian Church every other week. I didn’t mind it. Not only could I understand the prayers we were praying, the service was also a lot shorter. We were done in under an hour! And perhaps what impressed my adolescent boy’s mind most was that the girls at the Protestant Church didn’t all look like my sister (who is beautiful; but you know what I mean.)

I will never forget our first Christmas Eve service at the Presbyterian Church. We didn’t have to get as dressed up as we did when we went to the Orthodox Church. The pastor spoke about the significance of Jesus’ birth in English. We sang Christmas carols inside the church—songs like, “Silent Night.” That never happened at the Orthodox Church. The priest and the cantor always sang in Greek, their monophonic texture a world away from Western European harmonies. And if the church’s Byzantine choir sang anything, it was in a minor key. 

Plus, this Protestant church was decorated—oh, how it was adorned—with holly wreaths, garlands, with green candles, red bows, and twinkling lights. There was even a Christmas tree in the front, lit-up over a Nativity set. Sitting there, we felt like those shepherds all around Baby Jesus. I could almost hear the lamb and cattle sounds. I thought I glimpsed angels making their rounds . . .  while we sang about Christmas.

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