This time last year I was at John Wayne Airport heading to East Texas. I had arrived there in time to freshen up then join my newly transplanted family for their Christmas Eve church service. The three of them were all volunteering so we went early. I found a seat at the end of one particular pew as they would be involved during a very special part of the evening. The folks here had held a tradition for many many years and it was easy to understand why. I recall it vividly 365 days later with much fondness, especially in this year when we are separated from our traditional gatherings with family and friends.
An elderly lady in the church had been baking her recipe for traditional Christmas Eve buns for years on end and this was to be her last. She made enough for everyone in the congregation and their holiday visitors as well to be used at a specific moment. After singing and handbell ringing and Christmas Bible verses had been read, a significant number of men and women in the church disappeared behind the scenes then emerged with trays of steaming hot cocoa and baskets of the homemade buns. Down the center aisle they processed to distribute the cocoa and buns to each row. I sat with complete strangers but we felt so connected in that moment as each row of folks, including squirmy kiddos and dozing elders, partook together. It was an unexpected emotional moment that took me by surprise. I suppose I would’ve had my guard up if I thought it would be more than a nice little snack in the middle of church. I was pleasantly unprepared to emotionally connect with my row full of Texas parishioners that evening.
I’ll be drinking my cup of cocoa alone this Christmas Eve and not feeling even a wince of sadness because of it. This year is different and it almost seems fitting. Memories and fond wishes from afar will keep me warm on Christmas Eve 2020. My hot cocoa cuppa runneth over.