A little church, a little chili

Once they put away the Mace, it becomes a magic Christmas Eve.

The full moon is coming up over the mountains like a big bowl of milk, and friends and neighbors are all entering church for Christmas Eve services. As the baby sits on my lap, I try to re-crease his cotton collar with my thumb and forefinger. Lots of luck.

"You look good in church," I tell him.

"Who doesn't?" he answers.

Of course, everybody looks good in church. The soft light. The stained glass. If I owned a nightclub, I'd copy this flattering look, invite the masses and collect my fortune.

"Please reach into your pocket … " the pastor says.

"Already?" I think to myself.

"And pull out your keys … " he says.

"Great, now they want my car," I tell my wife.

"Nobody would want your car," she whispers.

"And shake your keys as we all sing 'Jingle Bells,' " the pastor urges.

Hundreds strong, we rise to sing "Jingle Bells." Admittedly, I never really believed in the concept of a one-horse open sleigh. To pull a sleigh properly, you need at least two horses, young and strong. But I play along. It's Christmas.

Bells on bob-tail ring,

making spirits bright,

What fun it is to ride and sing

a sleighing song tonight …

I carry the congregation in song for a while, till I get short of breath, then just lip-sync. In my arms, the baby is jingling his older sister's car keys. A little cylinder of Mace, attached to the key chain, dangles in front of my eyes.

It occurs to me that this could easily turn out to be a very memorable Christmas Eve: the one when I got Maced in church.

WE ARE A CATHOLIC- Lutheran-Presbyterian-Irish-Italian-Ukrainian clan, with a splash of German blood thrown on top, like vermouth.

Belonging to this many factions — at one time or another — is a little like having too many credit cards in your wallet. For now, though, we have settled on this beautiful Presbyterian church. On Christmas Eve, they offer five services.