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Daddy Diaries – Our First Magical Family Christmas Eve (Not Quite)

George Marks / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

This was the year.  With my daughter almost 3 and my son 1 and a half, it was time to start new traditions and make Christmas our own.  Both sets of grandparents live in Louisville, and instead of waking up there on Christmas morning, I thought we needed to be in our own beds so Santa could find us.  So, now for the first time in 30 years, I was forced to find a new tradition for Christmas Eve.

Ever since I was little, I have been going to my grandmother’s house in Louisville on Christmas Eve.  Even after my wife joined my side, we still made the trek.  Kids followed and they came along too.  After Grandma’s we’d alternate one year, going to 10pm mass with my mom and grandma and the next year going to 10pm mass at my mother-in-law’s church.  It was all a pretty simple strategy to remember, until it’s Christmas Eve and we’re in Henderson, KY with a few close friends around, but no family.

We had prepared well for Santa’s arrival on the following day, and we had a great plan for Christmas lunch, but we needed to find a good place and time to go to church.  We checked out all the Catholic church schedules in Henderson and Evansville.  I refused the midnight masses, because, let’s face it, my kids wouldn’t make it…and I wouldn’t either.  I could have gone for a 9 or 10 maybe.  Some churches had a 4pm, but that was pushing it with our daytime plans.  Finally, we found a mass at 5:30 labeled “Children’s Mass.”  Well, that sounds perfect!

So, we spruced up our kids in their Christmas best and tried to look presentable ourselves.  I was excited to find something geared toward kids because our two are usually angels in church, so this was just a bonus.  We got to the church at 5:20, which would usually spell disaster on Christmas Eve, but to our surprise, the parking lot was barely half full.  Inside the church, which we had never attended, there was an interesting small group of people, and a wonderfully delightful nun, who picked us out of the crowd as newcomers, and welcomed us right away.  Nice gesture…bad sign.

The mass began quickly with a parade of young children dressed as the Nativity, with a large number of angels.  This was just about all there was to the “Children’s” part of “Children’s Mass.”  But here’s the kicker.  The mass was mostly in Spanish.  Spanish!  I haven’t taken a Spanish class in 15 years!  And now I have to follow along in church, but at least it’s a Catholic mass that I’m used to following along with and not too much changes.

Just as I was settling in to be OK with the language the mass was in, it all fell apart.  My son began wiggling, then whining, then crying, then SCREAMING!  My daughter kept asking me questions…but not in “church voice.”  Then she laid down across the floor in her nice dress, as we struggled to not be those parents who lost complete control.  Two young niños were being baptized, and my son is screaming to make sure full attention is on us!

It actually took me 3/4 of the service to realize that even though the priest was speaking in Spanish, and the congregation was responding in Spanish, I was free to respond with the well-known English responses.  Here I am, reverting back to senior year of high school trying to appease Senior Switzer as if he had just said, “Ah, Ah, Ah.  En Espanol, por favor, Senior Cornish!”

So, Communion time comes.  Since both of my kids are whining to walk, I let them down to try anything to get them to stop making a scene.  One goes rogue, and the other must touch EVERYTHING!  Including the ceramic Nativity.  Firmly parked back in our pew, with the Body of Christ, firmly implanted on my tongue to stop the profanities I wanted to be spewing, the male child, who had calmed briefly, lets out another shrieking wail!  I quickly became my own father, saying “GIVE HIM TO ME!” and out to the car we went!

After the mass, we were joined (son still crying by the way) in the car by mom and sis.  I wanted to quickly transition to tomorrow and Santa’s arrival, which led me to think, we had planned a wonderful lunch for Christmas day, but not thought at all about dinner for Christmas Eve, and guess what was open…NOTHING.  Nothing including about 8 gas stations we passed getting back home, praying the gas light on the dash that had appeared on our way TO church wouldn’t leave us stranded.

We finally found a gas station open, we managed to get to Walmart 45 minutes before the one time of year they lock their doors, and we made it back home to enjoy a frozen pizza and settle in for a long winter’s nap.  Not the way we thought our small family’s first Christmas Eve would go, but we’ll certainly never forget it.

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