Back in October, when it still seemed like an open question, we made the difficult decision to not host our usual Christmas Eve celebration at the Maryland State Fairgrounds. It was a decision we didn’t take lightly. Christmas Eve at the Fairgrounds has become a defining part of who we are as a parish.
But as we turned our focus to our online experience we somewhat optimistically predicted that this could be our biggest Christmas Eve ever. It was our way of trying to put a positive spin on an unhappy situation. However, the response has proven to be more enthusiastic than we could ever have hoped. Based only on the reservations received for our newest tradition, take-home “Christmas Eve Kits”, we know that at least 11,000 people will be gathering in their homes to watch Mass at 4pm. This indicator alone exceeds the typical attendance at the Fairgrounds and doesn’t even count the thousands who did not reserve a kit. Kellie Caddick, our Director of Communications, estimates that we have been in communication with upwards of two million people regarding our 4pm Mass. Now, we can honestly say that this will be the biggest Nativity Christmas Eve celebration ever.
From the beginning, Christmas Eve at the Fairgrounds has been about making space for those who don’t come to church every week. We realized early on that most people want to go to church as early as possible on Christmas Eve, in our case, this meant the 4pm Mass. The congregation at this Mass overflowed from our small church building into any and every available space throughout our campus. Those standing in hallways were the lucky ones: at least they managed to get through the gridlocked streets and find parking.
It was the ultimate exercise in ‘get it over with.’ For our regulars who knew how early to arrive and make the system work for them, it was a mostly positive experience. For the unchurched who arrived on-time (which was too late to get a seat), it was an annual reminder why they didn’t want to be here.
Christmas Eve at the Fairgrounds solved all of these problems. There is plenty of parking and plenty of seats.
This year’s online Christmas Eve celebration is a natural expansion of the culture we have tried to build at the Fairgrounds. Everyone – unchurched, dechurched, or regular churchgoer – will have a front-row seat to the Christmas Eve liturgy.
Thanks to everyone who helped make this online celebration for this extraordinary Christmas a wonderful event.
See you in 2021 back at the Cow Palace.
You can tune in to our Christmas Eve celebration here.
But in the meantime, here are some pictures of our 2020 Christmas Eve Mass: