- Written by + Carl Jens Christian Jorgensen + Carl Jens Christian Jorgensen
- Created: 04 December 2018 04 December 2018
Decembers in Michigan are anything but pleasant. Heavy clouds with promise of snow are common. One arises in the dark and cold of impending winter and returns from school or work in the same dark bone-chilling dusk. Into such a dreary time comes the promise of Christmas, with the warmth of home, of joy and of lights and love. Mothers have been busy for a month with preparations for this most happy day. The delicious smells of cakes and cookies or favorite meats and sausage await children and fathers alike as they enter the home from outside. Handmade gifts have been sewn or knitted and secreted in favorite hiding places. Final preparations for the big day culminate in the cutting or selection of the evergreen tree soon to be hung with ornaments, some hand-made, in the evenings of mid-December. All is in readiness for the coming, once more, of the blessed Christ child.
In the week before Christmas the elders of our congregation would set a large spruce tree, carefully selected from the forest, in the chancel area of the church. On its very tip would be placed a silver star. Red bows were tied strategically to outer branches and candlesticks firmly attached to other carefully chosen locations, making sure the area immediately above was clear of needles. Fire was an ever-present danger when the candles were lit on Christmas Eve. Each candlestick had a short section of wire and weighted ball on the lower end to assure that the candle would be absolutely upright. Pure white wax candles were then inserted into their sockets. No other decorations were placed on the tree. The altar rail was draped in a garland of evergreen boughs and red bows and on the end of each pew was attached a bit of the same greenery and a red bow.
Our Christmas Eve service began at five in the afternoon. Stores, businesses and shops in Manistee closed at three that day, allowing personnel to prepare for the holy event. Snows came early in Michigan, so the ground normally had its mantle of white by the end of November. Often snowflakes would fall as we trudged through the snow in the half-light of December 24. As we approached the church we could see the multi-colored glow of light escaping through the stained glass windows. It was a welcome and warming sight.
The service was not a long one. Waiting back in each Danish home was the already-prepared Christmas Eve dinner featuring roast goose and rice pudding. We sat quietly in the pews—contemplation of the holy birth was as important as the short sermonette prepared and delivered by the pastor. An opening hymn, the brief liturgy and sermon, a second carol sung and the service neared its close. One highlight remained. The church was darkened and the elders lit the snow-white candles. All attention focused on the tree with its flickering candle light. The organist softly played the introduction to our most beloved Christmas hymn. Then as we sang the familiar words to “Silent Night”, the dying candles, one-by-one, would be snuffed out. When the last one had been extinguished, the church lights would come on, the pastor would extend the blessing and we would quietly file out of church. Once out of church, Christmas greetings would be exchanged. Then each family would depart for home to the festivities awaiting them there.
+ Carl Jens Christian Jorgensen was born in Manistee, Michigan, in 1914. Carl was a member of Saint John's from 1970 until his death earlier this year.