HUDSON–Regardless of religious convictions, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day offer everyone a chance to experience centuries-old modes of seasonal celebration in solemn, dignified and joyful communal gatherings.
Christmas and Easter services draw more people–church members and visitors alike–to religious establishments than any other Christian observances. And many local religious leaders say they want the general public to know that anyone who would like to attend these special services is invited to be their guest. Below is just a sampling of what’s happening at a handful of the many churches in the county.
In the center of Hudson at 369 Warren Street stands the imposing First Presbyterian Church, built in 1837 of blue limestone carved from nearby Beecraft Mountain. Redesigned in Gothic style in 1877, the church which was once the home parish to artist Frederic Church and President Martin Van Buren. It supports the official clock of the City of Hudson, with its Seth Thomas works installed in 1905.
On December 24, Christmas Eve, the church will have 3 services, with the earliest at 4 p.m. designated as a special informal service for families and children. Pastor David McMillan described the simple service, which includes holy communion as “what we’ve done for 172 Christmases on this site. We sing “Oh come all ye faithful” and “Silent Night” as parishioners hold lit candles. We hope people will come. We’ll sing the hymns and carols of Christmas on Christmas Eve at 7 p.m.”
Nearby is Christ Church Episcopal, a gothic brown sandstone church that dates back to the 1850s at 431 Union Street.
Children are welcome at the Christmas services says its pastor, the Reverend John Perry, “especially at the 4 p.m. service, even if parents aren’t sure their children will know how to behave.”
“I’m glad kids are excited. Let them come as they are and enjoy the fine music and the chance to hear the Christmas story in church,” said the pastor. A nativity scene is prominently displayed, with figurines depicting the birth of Christ. The custom of recreating the tableaux of parents with the baby Jesus in the manger, a trough for feeding animals, dates back to St. Francis, who used human beings and live animals to bring the story to flesh and blood life. “St. Francis lived at a time when not many realized the humble beginnings of Jesus Christ,” said Fr. Perry.
The priest described Christmas as an important time for his church to pursue its mission of “reaching out to those who are forgotten.” The church’s food pantry is part of that mission and this year the parish has embarked on a special initiative to provide Christmas presents for women and children living in shelters who escaped from domestic violence with little more than the clothes on their backs. The parish mobilized and brought in gifts made a pile seven feet high that engulfs the pulpit.
Visitors to Christ Church on Christmas Eve can attend sing carols at 10:30 p.m. and remain for a service at 11. “There is no better place to hear carols on Christmas Eve,” said Father Perry, who is looking forward to a solo performance of his favorite Anglican hymn, “Once in Royal David’s City,” and a procession by the choir and “all the bells and whistles. The church will be alive with sound,” he said. Christmas Day, an early morning service is scheduled for 8 am.
St. Mary’s Parish in Hudson, and its sister church, The Church of the Resurrection in Germantown, will both celebrate Mass this Christmas. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, at 429 East Allen Street, was established in the 1840s, but the present building, a large sanctuary of granite and steel with an Italian marble interior was dedicated in 1930. Christmas Eve masses are scheduled for 4, 6 and 10 p.m., and a Christmas Day mass at 10 a.m.
The Reverend Winston Bath will perform the services at St. Mary’s in Hudson, where the nativity scene is filled with close to life-size with fiberglass figures. The figures were made from molds of the church’s original cast iron figures that were too heavy for the church volunteers who install the scene each year. Rita Koeppel, director of music for the church, will be the soloist at the services.
At the Church of the Resurrection in Germantown, masses are at 11 p.m. Christmas Eve and 11 a.m. Christmas morning. “At this centuries old form of worship, we will tell the story and break the bread in a symbolic thanks giving, gathering to thank God for sending Jesus to be human like us,” Eva Swiontkowski-deNardis said.