A private college in a town not far north of here hosts an annual candlelight service of lessons & carols. It's loosely based on the Christmas Eve service famous at King's College in Cambridge, England. Jessie & I went for the first time last year and decided instantly to make it an annual tradition.
Candles fill the small chapel -- we counted somewhere between 80 & 100 -- and are, with the exception of a couple of light fixtures, the only illumination. The choir is dead-on and the chapel has a magnificent pipe organ with an organist who makes it do everything he wants it to. With Thanksgiving under the belt, it's the perfect way to dive head-first into Christmas.
Much like King's College, demand to the service far exceeds the capacity of the chapel (even with four different services on four different days). We called ahead for reservations a couple of weeks in advance for one of the services in the first week of December. Knowing they open the chapel to general admission seating shortly before the service begins, we planned to leave an hour early to make the 30-minute drive.
For something to be a tradition in my book, it really needs to happen three times. So, us going this year for the second time was pretty important if attending the service was going to officially be a tradition in 2009. We were both dressed in our Sunday best when the phone rang. One of my buddies was calling to tell me of a wreck that had shut down the entire interstate highway between here and there. Talk about timing. We quickly debated alternate routes and I chose the shortest while knowing that the narrow two-lane road could be filled with overflow from the interstate. It was filled indeed. As we turned onto the road, all we could see were brake lights.
I think Jessie & I decided to quit and turn back a few times in the early moments of our journey. We'd already eaten dinner, so our tie & dress were no use for a fancy meal. We entertained the idea of going to look at lights. We lamented about how we should have left just a few moments sooner. But while carrying on all of this conversation, I kept driving. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. Creep. Stop. Go. By the time we were supposed to be at the chapel, we hadn't even left town. And, still, I drove.
Finally, we made our way beyond the point of the accident and on to the interstate, which had almost no traffic as a result. The race was on. With the knowledge that every trooper in the area was at the wreck and having been pent up through the bumper-to-bumper traffic, I launched. We stayed somewhere in the 85 mph range and hit 90 at least once (which is saying a lot for my poor old truck with nearly 100k miles and a dying set of shocks). Even with the speed, we couldn't beat the clock. The trip that should have been a leisurely 30 minutes took an hour and we walked into the narthex just as the choir began to sing.
It was standing room only and our standing room was just outside of the chapel doors. It would have been easy to be disappointed as standing through an hour and a half service isn't anyone's first choice. But I quickly took a different perspective. It had been a long week leading up to that night. Standing up, there was little chance of me dozing off. In addition, the temperature in the narthex was easily 10 degrees cooler than the chapel. You can only squeeze so many people and candles into a room without altering the thermal balance. In the end, I think I appreciated the service a bit more than last year. There was an instant transition of calm that the carols and readings provided after the brief insanity of the trip. Besides, what good is a tradition if there isn't at least one interesting story to tell about it?