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A tingling moment

by Alecia Warren
| December 25, 2010 8:00 PM

Everyone has a skin-tingling moment they look forward to at Christmas.

For many, it's tearing open presents. For others, it's indulging in a spread of turkey and pies or getting a monster hug from Grandma.

I go a different direction.

For me, it just isn't Christmas until my family bundles up in the awkward mix of winter coats over nice church garb and ventures the car across icy roads to the evening Christmas church service.

The outing has always met with some resistance at my parents' home in Parker, Colo.

"It's too cold," my father will say, offering to make hot chocolate and turn on Christmas music.

"Let's just open presents," my brother might sigh.

Sometimes even mom is a little beleaguered from the final flurry of present wrapping, and wouldn't mind dozing on the couch instead.

It's my job to lay on the guilt. "It's Christmas," I'll say flatly. "We can't do Christmas without the Christmas service."

We've always gone, save for one year (I'll come clean, we saw "Avatar" instead last year. Technically, it still involves an epic story).

I love every minute of the Christmas service. The flood of warm air when we tramp into the church from the frigid December night. The low murmurs of the congregation as we find our seats and the organist pumps out holiday music.

But the peak, invariably, is singing "Silent Night" at the candlelight service. The lights dim, and flickers appear among the darkened crowd as ushers light people's candles.

It isn't so much the message of the song that gets me, as the feel of the it. Nothing seems quite so safe or so comforting as the sound of hundreds of invisible voices lifting together in a slow, lulling melody.

Sometimes, when a forest of hands lift their candles high for the last chorus, my eyes water just a tiny bit.

OK, I'll admit it. That happens every time.

I worried I would miss this experience entirely two years ago, when I couldn't get a flight home until Christmas Day.

Even if I didn't have my family with me, I decided, I would make sure my Christmas Eve followed tradition.

I hunted for a church with a candlelight service, and risked the heavy snowdrifts to make it.

It was awkward sitting in a pew alone, I admit. But as the hymns started and my voice mingled with those of cheerful strangers, it still felt right.

Not everything went as planned, though.

The candlelight portion of the program started, and my skin was prepped to tingle when the ushers started touching flames to fragile wicks. My eyes popped though, when everyone circled up and, instead of singing "Silent Night," starting belting "Go Tell It On the Mountain."

"What's happening?" I thought. "This isn't right!"

I don't want to insult a good holiday song, but "Go Tell It On the Mountain" generates minimal skin tingling for me.

I left shocked and befuddled that any church did a candlelight service different than what I had known. Was it me who was different? Did everyone else in the world sing "Go Tell It On the Mountain," and no one told me about it?

The mystery of it lingered with me during my flight the next day to Denver. When my parents and brother picked me up at the airport, they seemed remarkably unphased when I reported the news of the service.

But they had other suggestions to perk up the holiday. Opening presents should come first, my brother said. Making hot chocolate, my dad offered. Anything would be fun, my mom said, so long as we do it together.

Oh yeah, I remembered. This is my favorite part of Christmas.

This year, I'm saving my holiday excitement for when I hug my family hello.

Still - I'm in Coeur d'Alene again on Christmas Eve, and I'm determined it will go right.

I already informed my boyfriend we will be going to a church service. One that definitely sings "Silent Night" to candlelight.

"I guess you'd better get started finding one," he said last week.

"Don't worry," I assured. "I will."

After all, what's a holiday without a skin-tingling moment?

Alecia Warren is a staff writer at The Press. She can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2011, or via e-mail at awarren@cdapress.com.

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