When Christmas falls on a Sunday, like it does this year, families and churches must decide if it's more important to attend a formal worship or spend that time together at home.
Many churches in Ahwatukee have decided to adjust their regular schedules to accommodate larger crowds on Christmas Eve, and few if any services on Christmas Day.
Mountain View Lutheran Church has services throughout the day on Christmas Eve, with services built for children in the morning to the more contemplative at night, and then only one service on Sunday morning at 10 a.m.
"We know full well that a lot of the people who will be with us on Christmas Eve will be spending time with family on Sunday, and that's fine," Pastor Glenn Zorb said. "We understand that. We think we can accommodate everyone comfortably into one service on Christmas, and it might be kind of neat to actually be in one service. We've found that when Christmas falls on a weekend like this, and Christmas Eve is a Saturday night, as I look back on the historical records for this congregation, the attendance that Sunday is down considerably."
Zorb estimates they'll have more than 3,000 people worship in one of the services on Christmas Eve. He said in most churches he has been at Christmas Eve attendance is triple what a normal week would be.
Pastor Allan Fuller at Mountain Park Community Church said they decided to focus their efforts on strong Christmas Eve services to allow families to spend time at home on Christmas Day.
"We decided not to do services on Christmas Day because we're doing so much on Christmas Eve, and we very much value people and families being together," Fuller said. "In fact, we created a little packet, called ‘Christmas at Home,' that we handed out last Sunday, and we'll do it again on Christmas Eve. It's a little package with a craft, a letter, and a number of suggestions for prayers and things to read together, and questions to ask together as a family.
"We'd rather families spend that time together and think and process the meaning of Christmas. If possible, that would be a very meaningful experience."
Fuller said their Christmas Eve services this year are identical to what they did last year, with services at 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., and then the midnight service at 11:30 p.m. They found that attendance during those times was just about right for reaching most of their congregation's availability.
Other churches in Ahwatukee, like Calvary Chapel Ahwatukee, are keeping services the same as usual.
"We have Sunday morning service at 9:30, and we're going to have service at 9:30 on Christmas," said Pastor Doug Warwick. "I can't imagine not keeping the same schedule. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the Lord, and that's why we gather on Sunday anyways, so not gathering on Christmas seems kind of silly to me. He's the reason we're doing all of this, so we're meeting as scheduled."
This is the first time Christmas has fallen on a Sunday since 2005.
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