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An Insiders Guide to Christmas Eve at the Cow Palace

December 16, 2017

This year is our 12th at the Maryland State Fair for Christmas Eve. Twelve years ago we decided to make the break, close our church building down entirely and move the whole operation up the road. The move has transformed Christmas Eve: what was a dysfunctional nightmare which no one enjoyed, has become a not-to-be-missed community wide event and a beloved holiday tradition for many families.

That first year was in the Exhibition Hall with about 1,000 chairs which we (mostly) filled. The next year we added a second Mass, and the subsequent years we added seats. Eventually we outgrew it and moved to a much larger facility, the “Cow Palace” (which is every bit as lovely as it sounds). We have about 6,000 seats and two Masses. For one evening we transform a sprawling barn into a festive and sacred space with incredible hospitality, lavish decorations, a relevant message and all the wonderful music of Christmas.

Over the years we’ve learned a thing or two about how it all best works. Here are a few pointers:

  1. Don’t be intimidated by the crowds.

Some people miss out on this wonderful event entirely because the idea of the crowds is intimidating. Don’t let that keep you away. Our parking ministers and hosts have been working on an incredibly detailed plan, down to the smallest detail. It will be fun and it will be over in exactly 60 minutes.

  1. Come early/save seats

We have a festive program of seasonal music by Al Walsh and members of our Nativity house band, beginning about a half hour before Mass. Come early, choose where you’d like to sit. If you’ve got a group, go ahead and save as many seats as you like so you can all sit together (at what other church can you do that on Christmas Eve). Sit back, relax, and enjoy the music.

  1. Use our kids programs.

We’re offering ALL STARS for our youngest attendees. No sign up, just show up.

For parents who choose to keep their little children with them, we have a specially designated seating area just for you, where your kids are free to move around.

For older kids our TimeTravelers Programs is transformed into a winter wonderland we call Jingle Jam. I’ve seen the rehearsals and it is going to be spectacular. Your kids and grandkids will love it. No sign up, just follow instructions at Mass.

  1. Come to the 6pm Mass.

We say this every year, but think about it this year. Last year we had 6,000 people at the 4pm Mass and somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000 at the 6pm. Many people who choose the 4pm do so because they have other obligations for the evening and perhaps a tight schedule to follow. Others have small children and need to avail themselves of the earlier option. If that’s not you, do yourself a favor and come later. It’s not just less people, it’s more relaxed. And I promise you, you’ll be on your way by 7pm.

  1. Sign up to Serve.

The very best way to enjoy Christmas Eve is to sign up to serve. You can do it with friends or your Small Group, you can do it with family members, or on your own. It doesn’t even matter if you’ve never served before. Just sign up to serve on our website. Teams are arranged in 90 minute shifts, so you can easily serve and still enjoy your other Christmas Eve festivities. I guarantee, it will make your holiday.


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