One of my favorite holiday traditions is going to church. I’ll confess I’m not a regular church goer by any means, but it was a significant part of my childhood. Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday services were important in our family’s holiday traditions growing up. Today, I can’t imagine the holidays without them – singing the familiar hymns and putting me in the right frame of mind to fully enjoy the day.
No matter where I might be for the holidays – what city I’m in or where I am visiting – part of my celebration includes finding a church service to attend. I’ve come to find there is a comfort at these services as no matter where I am in the world a Lutheran or Anglican church service is pretty much the same. While I know what meaning these services hold for me, I never expected to get more out of them than merely upholding the traditions I grew up with.
I have been lucky enough to attend services at some of the world’s most famous cathedrals. I’ll never forget the first Christmas Eve Mass I attended at Westminster Abbey. The service started at 11:30pm and as it began, the lights dimmed and the stainglassed windows were illuminated by the moonlight outside. It was absolutely beautiful. At the same time, the choir began to sing. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as the beautiful sounds rang throughout the eaves. The acoustics perfectly in sync. That experience was more than 20 years ago and I can remember the service so clearly – what I saw, the songs I heard, and most importantly, how it made me feel.
What strikes me now is how I’ve been able to experience these services as the churches were intended to be used. Westminster Abbey is an iconic part of British history. Tourists from all around the world visit every day to see where Prince William and Kate Middleton were married, where kings and queens are coronated and where famous Britons like Sir Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer, Rudyard Kipling and many more are buried. At its heart, though, Westminster Abbey is still an active place of worship. Being able to experience this magnificent cathedral in its purest form was an incredible experience.
Even for churches not as grand as Westminster Abbey, there is still something special to be gained. Today, for Easter Sunday I was visiting St.Simon’s Island in Georgia with my family and friends. We attended Christ Church in Frederica for Easter service. This church has been in continuous operation since 1736! It was mind-blowing to think this church had been holding services longer than our country has been in existence. As a visitor I got a real glimpse into the history and culture of the area we were visiting.
The best part about these experiences and others is how excited it makes me to be in a new city during a holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I love being at home for holidays and building memories with familiar activities and locations. When I am somewhere new, however, knowing I can enhance my treasured holiday traditions with these new travel experiences, makes my holidays richer than I could ever imagine.