Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas in Brooklyn

Happy Boxing Day/St. Stephen's Day to all. Grandmas offered to babysit while The Kids went out for breakfast -- I think this is, like, their first date alone since the baby -- so I'm sitting here in our living area, laptop on my knee, with Miss Ruby nearby in a little vibrating baby seat; she is mightily fighting the urge to sleep (in a good-natured way), but her little eyes keep closing. Fellow Traveler is in the kitchen making sangria for our Mexican formerly-Christmas-dinner-turned-LC's-birthday-party feast. (Our Christmas Eve lobsters arrived late Christmas Eve because of weather delays elsewhere, so we have moved our menus back one day. While nervously tracking our lobster that evening, we encountered a FedEx customer service rep who, when we explained our problem on the phone, seemed to begin weeping uncontrollably. We felt terrible -- maybe our call was the one holiday problem call to send her over the edge, we thought -- but then she explained she was trying to tamp down an uncontrollable cough from a cold that wouldn't go away. We had her laughing when we hung up; so we trust she was finally able to have a semi-Merry Christmas.)
The Kids are not churchgoers, so we really didn't know if they would have plans to go to church on Christmas Eve; but Son #2 seemed inexplicably moved to attend services. So after Ruby was up from a needed nap we walked about five minutes up the street to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a huge basilica church with attached school that takes up an entire city block, for its 10:30 pm Spanish Christmas Eve Mass. We passed Santa Claus in a pickup truck, and gave him a wave -- I love New York -- and numerous families carrying elaborately decorated Baby Jesusi to be blessed at Mass, and proceeded up the formidable steps into the main worship area. No one paid a great deal of attention to us; a few elderly ushers were stationed in the narthex, but when we took what we thought were bulletins we found to our disappointment that they were simply a list of persons who'd donated poinsettias to the altar.

We had a great time as church tourists -- even our rather more skeptical daughter-in-law, who is also still experiencing postpartum discomfort of various kinds familiar to readers who are also parental units, and who spent an awkward hour half-sitting/half-lying sideways on a hard old-school church pew, with a leg propped against the kneeler. She was a very good sport about the whole thing. 

Our little party accounted for five of the maybe eight Anglo worshippers present -- along with a tall, very Hibernian-featured young seminarian in a black cassock who smiled throughout Mass and kept bobbing rhythm with the uptempo music, and a couple of non-Latino women across the aisle from us. Every bit of the Mass was in Spanish except for the chorus to "Feliz Navidad" -- ironic, that -- and I was only able to follow along because I know the liturgical drill and know enough entirely passive pidgin Spanish to pick up the important words. Sitting, or more appropriately sitting and standing, there, I  developed a new empathy for both immigrants and nonchurchgoers like DiL, thrust into the mystery of the liturgy with little clue as to what is going on.

Music was provided by a small folk group who sang what we assumed to be traditional Mexican hymns, although worshippers sat poker-faced throughout; every once in awhile the leader of the group would motion for the congregation to join in, but no one took her up on the offer. Having been in a folk group in college that often garnered the same response from the older generation in churches we visited, I sympathized with the woman, who who looked a little sad as she beseeched her fellow worshippers to sing along.)  The liturgy, however, was a livelier affair, with the crowd actively participating and even a few charismatic hands thrust into the air.

Our Mass was celebrated by three priests and two deacons, assisted by an equal number of girl acolytes; something I found pleasantly surprising. Two quietly self-assured and neatly attired teens, a girl and boy, read the lessons.  The homilist was earnest and lively and worked without a net, speaking extemporaneously as he wandered back and forth in front of the congregation; I caught the phrase "The glory of Christmas is love," and gleaned from the rest of the homily that in our tendency to romanticize the Christmas story we miss the amazing story of God in Christ becoming one with humanity in a way that's hard for us to comprehend. After the Eucharist the sequin-bedecked assortment of little Baby Jesusi laid at the altar by families were censed and blessed. We sang "Feliz Navidad" -- featuring the one English sentence of the entire Mass -- as our final hymn.

Not that I am prejudiced or anything, but Miss Ruby gave the blingy El Ninos some competiton for attention at church; the priests made much of her during the recessional ("Oh -- this one is real!" exclaimed one cleric with a grin as he approached our pew), and the people around us were all smiles as they saw her in her little polar-bear snowsuit.

A good time was had by all, even though we didn't get home until very late indeed, and promptly tumbled into bed.

I hope all your Christmases were equally wonderful!

1 comment:

LoieJ said...

Ah, your telling of that scene made it come alive to me.

We all should, at some time, come into our own churches with the eyes and ears of a visitor, pretending to now know how to use the hymnal, etc. and see just how a stranger would feel. Would Jesus even know what to do during the worship service?