As the holidays become ever more hectic, a religious service rich in tradition may be just the thing to calm the mind and lift the spirit.
"Holiday services allow us to let go of the craziness of the preceding weeks," said the Rev. Rob Wood of St. Aidan's Episcopal Church. "We settle down and think about the reasons we've been so busy buying gifts and remember the gifts we've received."
At St. Aidan's, Christmas Eve is also a time for children to not only learn but experience the story of Christ's birth. The children's pageant is the best-attended of the church's Christmas Eve services, Wood said. Children dress up as the traditional cast of angels, Mary, Joseph and sheep.
"It is drama within worship," Wood said. "This brings the message home [to children] in ways even opening a book or watching it on television can't."
The children's pageant and Holy Eucharist will be held at 4 p.m., followed by traditional Holy Eucharist at 7:30 and 11 p.m.
Alpharetta First United Methodist Church has seen such a rise in family attendance on Christmas Eve that it has added an additional children's service in the past couple of years, bringing the number of holiday worship services up to five. Ann Hudson, director of Children and Youth Music, introduced the idea of a family-friendly holiday event.
"So many families wanted to come out with kids, but it was stressful for the parents," said Hudson. "This service is meaningful for adults but it keeps the kids' attention."
The children's services (3 and 4:30 p.m.) are recommended for those who are elementary age or younger. These services include a short sermon, familiar carols, a live nativity and a performance by the children's choir. Each ends with "Silent Night" sung by candlelight.
Additional candlelight services include: one at 6:30 p.m. featuring music by the contemporary Vinebranch Band; a 9 p.m. service with communion and music by the chancel choir; and an 11 p.m. service with communion and performances by soloists.
St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church will host Christmas mass on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, including ceremonies for young parishioners as well as those who speak Spanish.
"The most festive will be midnight mass featuring a combined choir and instruments," said Kathy Kuczka, Liturgy and Music director. "We've been preparing for weeks in anticipation of greater crowds."
More than 3,000 families attend St. Thomas Aquinas. To accommodate the large turnout this time of year, mass will be held both in the church and the parish hall. Youth-led liturgies will be held at 4 and 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Spanish liturgies are scheduled for 8 p.m. Christmas Eve and 2:30 p.m. Christmas Day. Traditional mass will be held Christmas Eve at 4, 6 and 8 p.m. and at midnight; Christmas Day traditional mass will occur at 9 and 10:30 a.m. and at noon.
There are numerous holiday events planned at churches throughout Milton and Alpharetta. Here are just a few of the Christmas Eve highlights, with additional details available on individual church websites:
4:30 p.m. The 45-minute, child-friendly service will include familiar carols and a retelling of the Christmas story.
6:30 p.m. A candlelight service with music by both the praise band and choir.
11 p.m. A candlelight service with carols and Holy Communion.
5 and 7 p.m. Traditional worship with holiday carols and lessons and a candle lighting. Childcare up to age five will be available.
11 p.m. A candlelight service with Communion.
5 p.m. A celebration of the miracle of the Incarnation with a Holy Communion ceremony.
5 p.m. Candlelight worship service
7 p.m. Candlelight worship service with Holy Communion