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Doherty: Candles At Midnight

12/23/11 5:55PM By April Doherty
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(Host) Commentator April Doherty has discovered that the Christmas celebrations of  her childhood in New York City had a surprising connection to Vermont.

(Doherty) Ever since childhood, I have experienced the important parts of Christmas as part of a church congregation.

The tree and the presents took place at home, of course, but that peaked when I was five or six; and it definitely went downhill after I found out, well, you know. The "presents" part of Christmas didn't grow with me, but the church part did.

By the time I joined the kindergarten choir, I had decided that the minister was close to God: wise, gentle, and very, very old. I thought he was one of the 12 Apostles, but like everyone else's grandparents who had come from the old country, they had changed his name at Ellis Island, so now we couldn't tell which one.

Every year there was a pageant. It was always the same - but different because I was. The little kids always sang the first song - I saw three ships come sailing in on Christmas day in the morning. One year after we sang, my friend Karen surprised us all by lifting her choir robe over her head to show the congregation her new slip.

An even bigger surprise every year was who would play Mary. She was always a high school girl who was not in the choir, and she was always beautiful - even if we hadn't noticed she was beautiful before. One year my best friend Jeannie was Mary, and she kept the secret even from me. I was relieved that being in the choir gave me a graceful way to duck that competition. The year they chose Karen there were some urgent discussions beforehand, because there are some things you just can't risk Mary doing in front of the whole congregation.

But as we got older, the pageant yielded center stage to the midnight service on Christmas Eve. First, we sang Christmas carols. Then, while each of us held our unlit candles in silence, the lights went off. In the dark, the minister descended to the front pew and lit the candle of the first person, who then turned and lit his neighbor's. I always imagined that as the candle flames multiplied, the window to one soul met the window to another. We shared something lovely in those moments, some sureness of who we were and the quiet joy of being together. It seemed to me that age, emotional baggage, and artifice disappeared from our faces in the candle light.

Then the minister looked out over the congregation and reminded us of a quotation that's attributed by some to the Reverend Edwin H. Alden - better known as Robert. He was a real person who was born in Windsor in 1836, who also became a character in the "Little House on the Prairie" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

He too may have been quoting from others, but he's credited with saying: "There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle."
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