For my dad, there were two busy times a year: the Christmas season, and Lent and Easter. He was a Lutheran minister, and Iowa in the 1960s took these things very seriously. Even normally the job was busy: two religious services a week, plus all the committee meetings, prayer breakfasts, Bible studies, confirmation classes, Sunday-School training sessions, choir practices, weddings, funerals, hospital visits, and private counselling sessions needed to keep everything running. And then Lent would happen: an Ash Wednesday service followed by additional weekly services (sometimes Sunday nights, sometimes Wednesdays, considered Church Night by the school, so no practices or events were ever scheduled), and then the busy, busy run into Easter itself. The usual Lent service on Wednesday. Maundy Thursday services. Good Friday service(s). Sometimes an overnight vigil Saturday, and then a sunrise Easter service and the regular 9 and 11 services, all packed to the rafters with families, some of whom only showed up twice a year for church. In the pauses, the church bustled with people bringing flowers, changing the altar and other hangings, and practicing the music, the organ pieces and the solos and anything else special that was going on.
My dad was responsible for seven sermons in a four-day period (not to mention all those readings and the seasonal liturgy), and because he was of a philosophical turn, and some of these services would be the only times he saw these people, whereas other people would attend everything, he wrote a lot of them new each year, preparing his readings and his notes. (Not specific to the holidays, but I remember, when Rich and I would goof off in the nave on Saturdays as Dad prepped, seeing him in the pulpit in the empty church, muttering his way through the sermon and organizing his readings with bookmarks and notes.)
Mom wasn’t a fan: she was allergic to flowers and perfumes, and didn’t love big crowds; but for me Easter was great. No Easter bonnets for me, but I do remember new dresses and even shoes sometimes, and there were Easter baskets for me and Richard when we came home from the 11am service with Mom. And then Dad greeted everyone as they left the church, and the ushers tidied away the discarded and leftover programs, and the choir director stacked all the sheet music in the little room behind the choir loft, and the last church ladies took away the potted lilies (so as not to waste them), and dad at last, at last, came home and we had Easter dinner, chicken and mashed potatoes and corn, or pork chops and baked potatoes and frozen peas. (Not really a ham family.)
And then Dad collapsed on the couch and slept for a couple hours (as you would too), after what I realize now was probably a eighty-hour work week. This wasn’t dissimilar to the Advent season, though in that case there were even more services, and there was at least a football game for my dad to fall asleep to.
I don’t know that I had the language for this at the time, but I was so very proud of my dad. People came specially to listen to him, or that’s what I thought, anyway; “God” was a pretty abstract motive to me, when my dad was right there. He was the only person who got to stand in the the miniature glory of the gothic raised pulpit. He wore special robes and the fanciest fabrics I saw anywhere but in paintings in museums. He had such a lovely baritone voice…. Mine wasn’t an expressive family, which was a challenge for emotive me; and this doesn’t mean I didn’t get restless in church and long to be let out early, to go to the basement where the toys were or even outside. But now, at this age, I remember him most vividly at these times, the long, long runs up to Christmas and Easter. Love you, Dad.