new looks for old holiday celebrations

Many churches in the Glendale area are offering online as well  as in-person services during the Christmas season. 

By Tom Scanlon

Glendale Star Managing Editor

From parking lot events to streaming services, holy day celebrations in December are quite a bit different this year as places of worship adjust to the troubled times.

But that’s what religions have been doing for generations.

This week, Christians will celebrate the birth of Jesus. According to the Gospel of Matthew, wise men from the east followed a star to find Jesus: “Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another path.”

Christians are finding new paths to celebrate Christmas 2020.

The First Southern Baptist Church of Glendale—which has been celebrating Christmas for nearly 100 years, since 1926—plans to livestream its Christmas services.

Christmas at First Southern “definitely has been changed by the pandemic,” said Aimee Willis, a church administrative assistant.

She said the annual “Christmas Cantata” concert “has been canceled, unfortunately.”

But, she said, the church’s youth group decorated the sanctuary with the 47th annual “Hanging of the Green” event.

First Southern Baptist Church of Glendale has online worship and bible study available from its website, fsbcg.org.

In addition to in-person services, Harvest Church of Glendale also has archived sermons and live services at hcaz.org. Harvest Church has a 5 p.m. Christmas Eve service.

The Church of Christ on West Olive in Peoria also has in-person and online services on Wednesdays and Sundays.

According to the Central Christian Church Glendale website, “The elders and pastors have been regularly monitoring the trend in new COVID-19 cases published by the Arizona Department of Health Services and have been seeking to follow best practices for minimizing spread of the virus (if someone were to unknowingly be contagious). We are currently meeting in-person and are simultaneously live-streaming the service for those who are not quite ready to join us in-person yet.”

The church’s Christmas Eve service at 6 p.m. will stream at glendalechristianonline.com.

At Shepherd of the Desert Lutheran Church in Sun City, as at houses of worship around the West Valley, attendance at services has been a rollercoaster.

“In the beginning of the pandemic back in March, some of our services had five people,” said Judy Yates, assistant for ministry. “Pastor Daniel (Defassio) says, ‘That’s OK—if we have one person there, that’s church.’ But we’re up to 50 to 60 people, now.

“We have several people worshipping with us who are not Lutherans—just because we’re open. And that’s OK. We have open communion.”

While the church will celebrate with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services, another big change was Desert Lutheran did not have its annual Christmas party.

“Us Lutherans, we eat a lot,” Yates said with a chuckle. “Typically, we have a lot of meals—which we haven’t been able to do.”

Instead of a pre-Christmas feast and “posada” with pinatas, the church held a “Christmas Experience Drive-thru” Sunday, Dec. 20.

Bags of candy and other treats were passed out to kids in cars, Yates said.

She stressed it was “drive-thru only; nobody gets out of their cars.”

At St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in north Avondale, just outside Litchfield Park, there’s a strict no-ticket, no-admission policy this Christmas:

“Don’t forget to bring your Christmas Mass reservation tickets when you arrive as they will be required to enter the church,” according to a church announcement.

All Christmas services there are booked for in-person attendance, but there is another way to celebrate—from home. The church is livestreaming masses on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Chabad of Goodyear held a “Drive-In Chanukah Spectacular” Dec. 13 in the parking lot of Osborne Jewelers in Goodyear.

“A success beyond our expectations,” said Rabbi Berel Zaklikofsky.

“People came from all over the Valley to be part of this.”

Similarly, while providing weekly services via Zoom, Temple Beth Shalom of the West Valley held a menorah lighting ceremony in the temple’s Sun City parking lot.

Chanukah, or Hanukkah, began Dec. 10 and ended Dec. 18.

The celebration commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, after Jews rose up against their oppressors.

Compared to taking up arms, donning masks becomes a minor inconvenience.