For many Americans, Christmas is the most important holiday of the year, steeped in family traditions such as singing carols, going to a candlelight church service, or simply celebrating with family and friends. But with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, many organizations across our community have adapted with safety in mind as they try to preserve the spirit of the holiday season.
One of these organizations is Timberlake Church, which started a drive-in church service this summer. Russell Korets, Timberlake’s pastor of expansion and ministry development, is now overseeing their drive-in Christmas event.
“There is nothing more special than being able to celebrate Christmas with the family and community,” he said.
Timberlake’s new drive-in Christmas service will take place in the parking lot of Eastside Catholic School to accommodate a larger attendance. Safety is a top priority. Timberlake strictly requires its volunteers to wear masks and stay at a safe distance from worshippers during the service.
“Our biggest challenge is adjusting our desires and many other things we would have loved to do but that we can’t, because of safety protocols,” Korets said.
During the drive-in hours, people can experience either live carolers or a pre-recorded program. The program will be shown on three big screens. The sound is transmitted through FM radio, so attendees can listen to everything in their cars without needing to open their windows.
Every child who attends the event also gets a special gift from Timberlake.
“We have a team of volunteers that is preparing an activity box for kids to pass out at the drive-in. These boxes help kids connect and engage during the service in their special way,” Korets said. The box includes candies, activity stickers, and other little gifts that reflect the Christmas message.
Korets promises a much higher level of production than their typical Sunday drive-in services. His team has been working with a vendor to set up the screen, stage and sound.
“Many people are dealing with fear, isolation, loss, pain and at Christmas time especially, these feelings are often overwhelming for many,” Korets said. “Being a part of the community brings hope and healing.”
Sammamish Hills Lutheran Church (SHLC) is taking a different approach, allowing its worshippers to mark Christmas from the comfort of home by streaming its virtual Christmas Worship Service on Facebook on Dec. 24.
They have been partnering with Mt. Si Lutheran Church in North Bend since April to create worship services that include both congregations.
All of the content for the services are pre-recorded by pastors, church staff, musicians and congregation members, then put together into one video by the church’s music director, Sungjoon Lee. The videos are played on Facebook on Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. The church also invites everyone to sing at home and provides sing-a-long lyrics during the broadcast.
“We try to make them as close to our usual service as possible. The continuity is what helps the people a lot,” said Robin Shealy, the Interim Children’s Ministry Director at SHLC.
Besides worship services, the church also hosts a Children and Family Service on Christmas Eve, in which kids dress up and sing songs. This year, the church has continued this tradition, having Sunday school families participate online. Kids record their songs that are then put together by the musicians.
“We want to encourage the whole family to come, grandparents, parents, and the little kids. We usually invite children who have come to the service to come up with one song that they all know and sing together,” Shealy said.
For many people, having their kids take a photo with Santa Claus is also a precious holiday tradition. Issaquah Commons will continue having Santa available for photos, but with precautions.
“Each holiday season we have partnered with a Santa photo operator to provide our customers with this long-standing family-friendly tradition,” said Stephanie Heick, vice president of marketing at Madison Marquette Real Estate Service, which operates Issaquah Commons.
This activity has remained popular despite the pandemic, since Santa’s Chalet at the Issaquah Commons is located outdoors. However, to limit wait times and observe capacity retrictions from public health officials, reservations are strongly encouraged.
“Because the safety and well-being of guests, tenants, and employees is a top priority for the center, both Santa and visitors are required to wear masks and remain 6 feet apart during this year’s photo session,” Heick said.
Issaquah Commons also has a Santa mailbox that accepts letters, notes, and artwork from kids.
Being able to preserve the spirit of Christmas this year was not easy, and these organizers recognized the importance of what they are trying to do.
“Just being together, sharing a message of hope, continuing a tradition that’s been ongoing for hundreds of years, that in itself is a great achievement,” Korets, the pastor at Timberlake Church, said.
Timberlake Church’s special Christmas drive-in service will be hosted on Thursday, Dec. 24, at 3:00, 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. at the parking lot of Eastside Catholic School.
Sammamish Hills Lutheran Church will host its Christmas Eve service online on Dec. 24 at 4:00 p.m. (Children and Family Worship Service) 6:00 and 9:00 p.m. (Traditional Worship Services with Christmas Carols). They will also play an encore of their Children and Family Worship Service on Dec. 25 at 10:00 a.m.
To get a photo with Santa at Issaquah Commons, please visit their website. Appointments are available from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. every day through Dec. 23, and from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Dec. 24.