Christmas Mass in our large and affluent parish has a buzz, an energy to it. There is no shortage of Eucharistic ministers or altar servers; even the children’s choir is stocked.
The church is bursting with people, so many that I’m sure every fire code ever written for congregational assemblies is broken. Entire families gathered together, even the teenagers show up. And I hate it. Like the grinchiest grinch who ever grinched off to Mass, I hate it.
Last year I was standing, crammed, into the back of the church with at least 100 people I had never seen before in my life, certainly not at Mass. I was mad at all these people who never come to church and then show up at Christmas, and I was mad at myself for not getting there an hour earlier so I could tell people over and over and over again, “I’m sorry but those seats are taken.”
Before we even got to the second reading, the woman organizing the angels reprimanded my son for something that wasn’t that big of a deal, she should have let it go. For a lot of reasons I did not sign my son up to be an angel. He is no angel, but he’s awesome and he’s mine, so you don’t get to correct him. So I was mad at her.
Then, the woman in charge of all the little kids with the bells gave me a look and then she huffed something irrelevant, because she left her paperwork in a stupid place and my 3-year old sat on it. And I’m sorry, but what kind of spreadsheets could you possibly need to march 25 preschoolers with towels on their heads down a church aisle ringing bells?
And what’s the big deal if a 3-year old sits on your paperwork? Anyway, I got mad at her, too, and I wasn’t very nice. The bell lady, the angel lady, they were both completely stressed out. Too many bells, too many angels. Too many people. Too much of everything.
I felt bad about my anger, and I knew I was missing the entire point of Christmas. As I was contemplating my Christian deficits, I started to come up with ways to make sure that only the supporting parishioners, like me, got to come to Christmas Mass.
I thought about distributing tickets, or a system where you get points for every Mass you attend during the year. All sorts of schemes that had me making fabulous spreadsheets accounting for other people’s truancy, the end result being me sitting smugly and comfortably in a pew with my family instead of standing in the back of the church.
By the time we got to the homily, my 3-year old was throwing a fit and the 5-year old was complaining because he couldn’t see and they were both complaining because they’re hungry. Father Carl was welcoming everyone to Mass, and I figured that’s why (among other reasons) he’s a priest and I’m not.
My husband suggested that he take the younger children home. He was right, it was a ridiculous effort. After they left, my older daughter showed me a card of the holy family that she had been holding and told me, “Mom, I just really wanted to go to Christmas Mass as a family.” At that point, I couldn’t have felt any worse.
Until I noticed that the bell lady, the one with all the paperwork, was not only in charge of bells, she was a Eucharistic minister and I was in her line. I was embarrassed about receiving communion from some lady I’d hissed at 20 minutes earlier, besides, at that point I didn’t really like her very much, and I didn’t want communion from her.
I know I should be grateful that all these people come to Mass on Christmas, and I know I should be happy I can celebrate Christmas as a part of this community. I know I should be understanding and forgiving, act like a grown up, get over it, cheer up. But I can’t.
I don’t like Christmas Mass, I just don’t.
Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at email@example.com.