The Christmas Eve midnight Mass guide for not-so-regular church goers
So, you're spending the hours near midnight in a large building packed with people wearing coats during which there will be a long homily and musical performances. It's Christmas Eve midnight Mass, also known as rooster's Mass. For a lot of Christmas celebrants it's a mandatory family obligation. For a lot of others it's the reason for the season, and you wouldn't think of missing out.
Whatever your feelings for midnight Mass, it is a bit of a challenge for most of us because, well, you're going to church in the middle of the night. I mean, Santa and his reindeer are flying around and most people are in bed at that hour.
I'm not a practicing member of any religion, and yet I like attending midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. What can I say; it's the pagan in me. At any rate, here are the best practices I've picked up over the years.
1. Find out what time it starts
Guess what? Midnight Mass sometimes starts at 11.
2. Go ahead and eat before Mass
First of all, let's settle the question about whether you should eat before. Maybe you've been told that you're not supposed to eat an hour before Mass. And maybe that's not a big deal because your Christmas Eve meal happened way back around 6 p.m. anyway.
At any rate, according to the Catholic Code of Canon Law, "One who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception only of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion" (Canon 919).
In other words, communion doesn't happen until later on in the service, so don't panic if you had a cookie just before you left for church. Also, if you're not Catholic, none of this matters.
3. Avoid a sugar crash
That said, it's going to be a whole lot easier to stay awake through Mass if you don't give yourself a sugar crash. Have some protein and complex carbs if you can. Maybe hold back on the cookies and candy. Unless your plan is to sneak in a covert nap while you're at church, in which case, load up, Sugarboots.
4. Get there early
This is one of the busiest nights of the year at church, so try to show up around 15 to 20 minutes early. This isn't just so you get a good seat (because it's church, they're all good seats, technically). But it would be nice if your whole family could sit together. Even more important, it's nice if you don't have to inconvenience anyone else while trying to find a place to sit.
Also, if you arrive early enough, you can plan a graceful exit.
5. Remember to bring some cash
Think of what you'll want to contribute to the offering basket and then double it in case someone else in your party forgets to bring cash.
6. Watch the old ladies
Don't know when to stand up, sit down or kneel because you haven't been to church in 364 days? Just watch the elderly women around you. They're most likely to attend services regularly, so they know the drill.
7. Don't bring snacks
Seriously? Don't do that. It's only an hour. Maybe two. Just... no. That means no gum, either. We can hear you snapping it. And is that a Diet Coke? What is wrong with you? You can bring a chocolate bar, though, if it's high-quality dark chocolate and you share.
8. Sing along
No one cares how off-key you are. Come on; this is the fun part. Join in.
9. Yes, you have to shake hands and say, "Peace be with you"
This is also one of the best parts. Just give into the good feelings. Here's the thing — this is an opportunity to hear other people wish you well. How often does that happen? Not often enough, I think. I mean, I hate shaking strangers' hands too. Like, who are you, really? Who did you vote for? It doesn't matter. Give a little bit; get a lot back. It feels good.
10. Have a light snack if you're hungry after
OK, you're back home and everyone's grabbing last-minute gingerbread men before they hit the pillow. Is that a good idea? Why not? Have yours with milk.
In general, it's a good idea to avoid eating acidic foods like tomato sauce, spicy foods, high-fat foods and alcohol right before bed if you want to fall asleep quickly and get a solid night's rest. Better to snack on bananas, milk, yogurt, popcorn and high-glycemic rice, like jasmine (so yes to the rice pudding).
Then again, it's a holiday. Unless you're going to work early the next morning, and OK, some of us consider the early-morning gift unwrapping with the kids work, maybe don't worry about it and just eat whatever holiday food you feel like eating. Merry, merry!